Chance v. Swift: Sincerity v. Authenticity

David Brooks: “It’s interesting to compare Chance the Rapper’s new song with Taylor Swift’s new song … The former stands out from the current cultural moment; the latter embodies it … The first thing you notice in comparing the Chance the Rapper and Taylor Swift songs is the difference between a person and a brand. A lot of young people I know talk about ‘working on their brand,’ and sometimes I wish that word had never been invented.”

“A person has a soul, which is what Chance is worrying about. A brand has a reputation, which is the title of Swift’s next album. A person has private dignity. A brand is a creation for an audience. ‘I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams,’ is how Swift puts it.”

“The second thing you notice is the difference between sincerity and authenticity. In Lionel Trilling’s old distinction, sincerity is what you shoot for in a trusting society. You try to live honestly and straightforwardly into your social roles and relationships. Authenticity is what you shoot for in a distrustful society. You try to liberate your own personality by rebelling against the world around you, by aggressively fighting against the society you find so vicious and corrupt … rebellious authenticity is the familiar corporate success formula, and sincerity, like Chance the Rapper’s, is practically revolutionary.”

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Breath Mints as ‘Social Currency’

The Wall Street Journal: “For makers of breath-freshening mints and gum, there is no such thing as over-sharing. From big candy companies to small artisanal confectioners, the makers of mints are tinkering with product design, packaging, and marketing, all to encourage us to share … A mint is ‘a social currency,’ said Jeff Wurtzel, a marketing brand director for Mars Wrigley Confectionery, which makes Wrigley’s gum, Life Savers, Altoids and other breath-freshening treats. ‘You connect with someone else by offering something small’.”

“This year, the company plans to launch Extra Chewy Mints, which will come in a plastic package with an opening designed for easy sharing … In the early 1900s, Altoids were packaged in a tin to keep the mints fresh, according to Mr. Wurtzel. But the container turned out to have unexpected sociable benefits. ‘It’s literally in your hand and it’s an extension of you when you open it,’ Mr. Wurtzel said of the Altoids tin.”

“Mints can play a communal role in offices and restaurants. At the Minneapolis location of Industrious Office, a co-working space, the community manager, Marie Adrian, keeps a bowl of individually wrapped mint Life Savers on her desk. The mints have become a post-lunch routine for many people, creating a natural ‘touchpoint’ with the space’s members, Ms. Adrian said … All that sharing doesn’t just spark sociability. It means more business for Tic Tac and other mint makers.” Todd Midura, the vice president of marketing of Tic Tac North America, comments: “If you’ve got people sharing, it adds more occasions.Before you know it, you pass around that pack and it’s empty.”

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Danny Meyer & Enlightened Culture

Fast Company: “How do you persuade your waiters to forgo a 20% tip on each table they serve? Danny Meyer says they never wanted to hire people who would only have been nice to you if they assessed it out of the four tables in their section, you were the richest or you were the most generous.”

“By that he means building a culture where employees focus first on pleasing one another, creating a warm energy that in turn fuels the staff as it tends to patrons, the community, and suppliers. His restaurants offer employees a variety of rewards, from bonuses to birthday cakes. And employees in turn have discretion to give customers free extras, all creating a virtuous cycle of hospitality.”

“Meyer regularly tests his approach to see if it’s is working by asking members of the team to share their understanding and experience of the culture … He says these discussions happen at pre-service meetings and in employee town halls, and through multiple internal channels that employees can use to offer their honest feedback.”

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WorkEatPlay: The Pay-to-Stay Café

Anne Kadet: “There’s long been an uneasy relationship between the city’s cafes and the freelancers who use them as office space. Some joints banned laptops or unplugged the Wi-Fi. But a few are trying a new tactic—charging for table time. Peter Litvinenko, CEO of WorkEatPlay, which currently offers pay-to-stay service at one Hamptons and five New York City venues, describes his business as an Airbnb for restaurants looking to rent their tables as workspace during slow periods, typically on weekdays before the dinner hour.”

“Patrons using the WorkEatPlay website can select an establishment and reserve a day; hours vary depending on the venue. One can pay by the day or buy a package of hours. WorkEatPlay keeps the fee and the restaurant—at least in theory—gets new business. The ideal venue offers a convenient location, a pleasant dining room and decent wireless, Mr. Litvinenko says. Restaurants serving fish are out: ‘We don’t want the aroma to be part of the experience’.”

At Pourt, “which opened this spring on Manhattan’s Cooper Square … there’s a traditional cafe upfront, while the spacious backroom offers a cafe/office hybrid. The workstations feature charging outlets and swiveling ergonomic armchairs, and the décor includes paintings by neighborhood artists … The $10-an-hour rate is steep compared with the $40 that standard co-working spaces typically charge for a day pass. The co-working outfit WeWork, meanwhile, only offers monthly passes. Rates in New York City, which vary by location, start at $300 for a ‘hot desk’ and $650 for a private office. Pourt founder Mike Kruszewski recently tweaked his proposition so guests can apply the entire fee toward food and drinks at the cafe.”

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Fiskars: It’s All in the ‘Snip’

Business Insider: “In the late 1960s, Finnish designer Olof Backstrom helped Fiskars create the world’s first pair of plastic-handled scissors. They were supposed to be black, not orange. But when Fiskars accidentally used some leftover orange plastic from a juicer production line, the company realized it’d created something great. The company put the color to a vote. Orange won out over black 9-7.”

“Other colors have come along since then, but the orange pair is by far Fiskars most treasured creation. The scissors became a permanent fixture in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2004, and the color even has its own trademark.”

“Before each pair leaves the factory, professional “scissors listeners” make sure they produce the right snip sound as the steel blades slice together. According to Fiskars, the scissors ‘are inspired by nature, physics, and the human anatomy to solve problems in surprising ways.’It’s no accident designers lump them in with other perfectly designed products, like Sharpie markers and Post-It Notes. Fiskars has been around since the 17th century. It’s had some time to get the cutting experience just right.”

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Crocs: A Divisive Shoe for Divided Times?

The Washington Post: “Crocs, perhaps the most polarizing shoe of our time, is making a comeback. The company’s signature foam clog fell out of favor a decade ago, but now it is a star reborn on Twitter and beyond: On the runway, in the pages of Vogue and on feet of people who feel a little funny about it but can no longer resist.”

“The turnaround is no accident, analysts say, but rather the result of four years of strategic changes, following a $200 million investment by private-equity giant Blackstone Group in 2013. Since then, Crocs has closed hundreds of under performing stores, done away with unpopular styles and shifted its focus back to its classic foam clog, which sells for about $35 and accounts for nearly half of the company’s sales.”

“Crocs now come covered in glitter and emblazoned with Minnie Mouse, Spider-Man and Batman. The company — which markets its shoes as slip-resistant and easy to clean — has also found a niche among medical and restaurant workers. Its Bistro line, for example, includes clogs covered with eggs and bacon, sushi and chili peppers … Company executives recently began noticing that people were buying a dozen pairs of clogs at a time, all in the same color. It turned out, they said, that high school and college sporting teams were buying them to wear before and after competitions. Many of those students had worn Crocs as children, and were now rediscovering them.”

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Disney Brings Its ‘World’ To Retail

The New York Times: “Quietly, like a mouse on tiptoe, Disney overhauled its retail store at the Northridge Fashion Center mall in late July. Out went the twisty Pixie Path aisles, the ornate displays, the green walls and the color-changing fiberglass trees. In came a movie-theater-size screen, a simplified floor plan, white walls and more items for fashion-conscious adults … the Disney Store here was a prototype, and the company has been monitoring sales and consumer feedback as it prepares to revamp its 340-store chain.”

“The redesign makes Disney’s stores a bit more like Disney’s theme parks. For instance, daily parades at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida will be streamed live to those colossal video screens. During the parades, store personnel will put out mats for shoppers to sit on and roll out souvenir carts stocked with cotton candy and light-up Mickey Mouse ears. The screens could easily be used to stream other events, such as red carpet arrivals for Disney movie premieres. That kind of programming could bolster foot traffic, and thus sales — while also turning the stores into a more potent promotional platform for Disney’s films, television shows and theme parks.”

“As it attempts a new mall strategy, Disney is also remaking its e-commerce operation. ShopDisney.com is replacing DisneyStore.com. The new site will have a less cluttered look and a vastly expanded assortment of designer merchandise aimed at adults (Mickey-themed Ethan Allen furniture and a $350 Siwy denim jacket with Minnie embellishments will be on offer). The site will also stock more items that previously were available only in stores inside Disney theme parks.”

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Porky Pig: The Anti-Mickey

The Wall Street Journal: “There were essentially two modes of expression in the Hollywood studio cartoon: the Disney style and that of Warner Bros. Disney strove for believable narrative and overwhelming naturalism—even in a fantasy like his 1937 milestone, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ Conversely, the Warners style, which is often conflated with that of Avery, its most innovative director, came to mean uproarious, fast-paced and often transgressively violent humor in which characters frequently violate the fourth wall and confront you with their artificiality.”

In 1935, “Warners released a cartoon called ‘I Haven’t Got a Hat’ introducing a group of animal schoolchildren, and the one who began to attract notice was a certain pig with a speech impediment. Within a year, he was starring in his own series of shorts, and before 1936 was over, Porky Pig was rapidly becoming the embodiment of a whole new kind of animated film. … By 1938-39, Bob Clampett had become the dominant directorial influence in Porky’s career. On his watch, Porky became considerably cuter, thanks equally to Mel Blanc, who now provided the pig’s voice and made the stutter more adorable than grotesque.”

“Clampett’s characters are like cuddly, bouncy balloons being manipulated by a maniacal genius … Clampett seems determined to contrast exaggerated cuteness with even more extreme violence, as if throwing a hand grenade in the middle of a Disney Silly Symphony.” By 1943, “two characters had already succeeded Porky as the studio’s biggest breadwinners, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. As popular as Porky had been a few years earlier, he was essentially a passive character—like Laurel & Hardy, things happened to him. He couldn’t compete with the brash, aggressive stars of the World War II era, like Bugs and Daffy, who belonged to the age of Abbott & Costello.”

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Vision: Michelin Prints The ‘Perfect’ Tire

The Verge: “They’re completely airless, last virtually forever, and could be the perfect tire for our autonomous future. Michelin, the 128-year-old tire manufacturer based in Clermont-Ferrand, France, recently unveiled a 3D-printed tire concept that it says could be the ideal ride for self-driving cars. It just needs to figure out how to actually manufacture them first.”

“Dubbed ‘Vision,’ these spidery, psychedelic-looking sponges are printed from bio-sourced and biodegradable materials, including natural rubber, bamboo, paper, tin cans, wood, electronic and plastic waste, hay, tire chips, used metals, cloth, cardboard, molasses, and orange zest.”

“These tires would be embedded with RFID sensors to collect data and predict performance and function of the vehicle. And they will be adaptive to different conditions. Heading to the mountains for some skiing? Drive through a Michelin printing station and get your tires retrofitted for snowy terrain … this isn’t Michelin’s first rimless, airless tire to be released. The Twheel, an airless tire concept that emerged over a decade ago, is currently in use in small-frame, low-speed vehicles and appliances like golf carts and lawn mowers.”

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