October 3, 2019

Foot Locker Bets On Cultural Authenticity With Greenhouse Incubator


Streetwear and sneaker industries continue to mature into lucrative segments whilst brands are upping their investment in cultural capital for the next phase of the game. Once considered a core part of the sneaker landscape, Foot Locker is trying to find its place in the modern battlefield of sneakers, fashion, and youth. The recent launch of Foot Locker’s Greenhouse hopes to give it the “cred” needed to expand beyond its household name as a retailer.

What is Greenhouse?

Project Greenhouse is Foot Locker’s recently launched initiative that’s meant to change how the brand interacts with a younger, culturally-savvy customer base. Greenhouse is headed by Mel Peralta, founder of watch brand FLüD. In his words, “Inclusivity, empowerment and innovation are really our three big pillars behind the identity of Greenhouse.”

This modus operandi is meant to be drastically distinct from the corporate obligations of Foot Locker proper, and for this reason, Greenhouse will have its own separate office far from Foot Locker’s Manhattan headquarters. “We wanted to make sure that we had a group that was really close to culture, that was not breathing our own air all the time,” said Foot Locker CMO Jed Berger to HYPEBEAST. To do this, Greenhouse will revolve around three key parts:

  • Collaborations: directly working with designers and creators on projects with cultural impact.
  • Concepts: connecting with brands in unconventional ways.
  • Think Tank: creating culturally-progressive initiatives within the company itself. This was Green house’s original purpose as a purely internal project before it branched off.

In Execution

Keeping with Foot Locker’s strong retail roots, Greenhouse will exist as an app where customers can buy exclusive product and check availability for items limited to select stores. But the primary goal for the incubator remains to create cultural capital through the talent it works with. Here are some of the names attached for the initial launch:

  • Photographer Christina Paik
  • Davin Gentry of Diet Starts Monday
  • Banga of PaperBoy Paris
  • Artist Victor Solomon
  • Designer Nicole McLaughlin
  • Founder of VFILES, Julie Anne Quay
  • Treis Hill of ALIFE
  • Dao-Yi Chow of Public School

Included inside the scope of this first push is O-1, a sustainability-focused e-commerce platform headed by Chow, and Project 366, whose aim is to identify young talent and offer mentorship towards retail early as opposed to waiting until they’ve had to grow their brand on their own

“All the cool kids are doing it.”

Foot Locker is certainly not the only brand to launch public-facing initiatives geared towards folding in young stakeholders into its ideation strategy. Regardless of their scope or under what dynamic the initiative operates, the end goal is to create a gateway on the side specifically for creative talent to connect with a brand or other brands, and to fast track them towards contributing their skills to the industry. Other brands that have done this:

  • LVMH Prize by Louis Vuitton: A program to empower and equip young designers with experience and resources
  • Studies____ by Reebok: A Kerby Jean-Raymond (of Pyer Moss) initiative focused on pairing designers with Reebok
  • Pensole: An ongoing footwear design program
  • Sneaker Essentials: A co-created curriculum featuring the Fashion Institute of Technology and Complex Magazine

Cultivating Talent for Tomorrow

At a time when brands are both mirroring the moves of their competitors while trying to differentiate, the launch of Greenhouse demonstrates how important cultural relevance and authenticity will be down the line. Part of that has meant that brands took stances on politics in a bid to demonstrate a better understanding of their target markets through their PR and business decisions. That was the output end of the brand strategy. On the input end, recruiting and nurturing loyal talent is as essential an investment as proprietary technology.

Why? In the constant arms race to show how different or better a brand is over its competitors, Foot Locker as a retailer is both late and outclassed compared to larger brands. That said, with sneakers set to outsell fashion footwear in the States by 2020, there will still be plenty of business to go around for this rapidly maturing segment. And when other brands join the fray, it will be interesting to see how their initiatives operate differently, what emerging talent they find and what new ideas come of them.

What’s the Missing Link We See?

One of the most frequent conversations we have is around structure in the realm of creativity. Structure manifests itself across both back-end and front-end elements.

  • Business (back-end): How do you create a viable business and build in the day-to-day requirements to ensure you can monetize your creativity?
  • Creative (front-facing): How do you plan out consistent and scalable creative execution?

In our experience, ideas are rarely the hardest part. Anybody can come up with a good idea, at least once. But understanding how to build something that can consistently exist in the realm of relevancy and (financial sustainability) is much more difficult.

September 23, 2019

The Balance of Time, Meaning and Money


Several studies say that people who value time over money tend to be happier and this seems to also apply to graduates in spite of debt, and independent of socio-economic class. Yet our modern lives show that we can buy back time and the happiness that comes with it. And if both are present how does the concept of “meaning” factor into this?

The Evidence

University of British Columbia researchers asked graduating students how satisfied they felt with their lives over the course of a month. They surveyed the students again a year later. In both surveys, about 62% of them said they valued time more than money, and those people were happier. What’s more, valuing time over money brought double the magnitude of happiness linked to materialism in general and happiness known to accrue from high parental income.

In further research, “People who value time make decisions based on meaning versus money,” says study leader Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “They choose to do things because they want to, not because they have to.”

Although Canadian tuition (and the resulting student debt) isn’t as high as in the United States, the emphasis on time over money does seem to carry over into adulthood and across different countries. A 2016 study of American adults found that they were “happier and more satisfied with life than the people who chose money,” even after accounting for differences in age, income, and the amount of time people spent at work or at leisure.

Another survey from the Pew Research Center asked people to rank various activities based on meaningfulness. The top three? Time with family, friends and time spent outdoors. After that was pets, listening to music, reading, and religion. In eighth place: job or career.

Income Satiation and The $95,000 Threshold

Naturally, it’s too simplistic to conclude we should just drop everything and just “live our best lives.” A lot of us have to put food on the table and sometimes we have to spend money to make money. So how much time and money do we really need?

Well, it differs by the country, but “income satiation” seems to happen between $65,000 and $75,000 for emotional well-being, but for life evaluation (long-term goals as opposed to day-to-day satisfaction), that kicks in at about $95,000. These two thresholds for satisfaction happen later for wealthier regions.

As for time, it’s more complicated. It’s certainly a lot easier to focus on time when we have financial security, but it seems even when we have that, we still feel like we’re short on time and we suffer for it. For North Americans at least, our culture creates a famine of time where the stress of not having enough time to do all the things we want to do is more worse than being out of a job.

To this end, modern conveniences that include the gig economy (as in paying people to do our tasks instead of doing them ourselves) allow us to buy back some of our time — and thus, some of our happiness. In a survey of more than 6,000 people in the United States, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands (including 800 millionaires), those who spent the most on time-saving purchases reported higher levels of life satisfaction.

That said, there’s bound to be yet another ceiling here. Does your lifestyle mean you’re constantly converting time to money back into time, and leaking both in the process? How much of your lifestyle is contingent on “paying to play,” much less “paying to win”? For creative types, this is especially worth considering if we find ourselves excessively needing to convert money to time or worse, the inspiration that fuels our work.

The Key Takeaways

  • “People who value time make decisions based on meaning versus money. They choose to do things because they want to, not because they have to.”
  • Humans adapt to a lot of things including happiness, which is why we can actually reach a cap where more money doesn’t equal more happiness.
  • Money can buy happiness when we pay to free up our time, but only if that time gained back is actually free time.

So assuming you’re generally not satisfied with all things considered, Whilans suggests active leisure and just about anything physical versus passive leisure like just watching TV or giving away our time by volunteering. Whether we choose to do that or not, the idea is to change our perception of our time, one that doesn’t have a dollar or utilitarian value on it. Not only does that free us from feeling “starved” for time, but it could also allow us to do highly meaningful work (creative or otherwise) that we might not get hired to do otherwise. The caveat is that we have to plan ahead for how we spend any free time we suddenly happen upon (for fear it gets filled with something else out of compulsion).

To try and put our complex lives in a nutshell: there’s a strong link between our satisfaction and the balance of a triangle includes time and money on the sides supporting meaning at the top. Modern conveniences mean that we have more options to shuffle and “convert” our resources as we need, but unless we get our reasons in order, we’re less likely to find anything resembling happiness in the long run.

September 16, 2019

What to do when you feel uninspired at work

We’ve all been there before where we find ourselves in a rut or hitting a wall (or several) that leaves us uninspired. Busy modern work schedules have always existed, but this generation’s situation has perhaps evolved faster than we can cope. So how do we continue to fuel inspiration at a time when creative work will increasingly be in demand?

The Progress Principle

One of the most common sources of lowered motivation at work is what Harvard researchers called the progress principle, which is the idea that making progress in meaningful work is the “single most important factor” in boosting one’s “emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday.”

The idea of small wins is a very popular means of tackling the day-to-day, especially where the list of tasks and nested subtasks becomes a veritable mountain of work: Moving the needle even a tenth of a degree reminds we are capable of effecting change. This goes hand in hand with chunking as a means of rationalizing a seemingly incomprehensible workload. But this isn’t the complete picture because it’s only a means of getting through work we have to do — it says nothing of the emotional value of the work or our perception of it.

The counterpoint is that when we aim to chip away at small wins, we lose sight of the bigger picture. The goals of many is often to tackle the biggest, most challenging task first, when we have an abundance of energy and attention versus deferring tough tasks towards the end. Oh wait, that’s procrastination right?

The Threat of Confirmation Bias

When individuals or a group of individuals finally arrive at “what works for them,” it can be an enormously cathartic moment that has lifelong ramifications (for them). The issue is when these ‘eureka’ moments then become the gospel that self-help books, lifestyle blogs, anecdotal and even scientific research say applies to a lot of people.

Unfortunately, the promise of “that one book” or “that one podcast” is tempting to jump on as a means of getting ourselves out of the mud and back into the game. But the reality is, although many other human beings have experienced what we’ve been through, looking through only their pool of answers distracts us from finding our own.

Fatigue and The Spectrum of Inspiration

A lack of inspiration has less to do with the amount of work or stress (people can have ‘good’ stress that comes from a fruitful and engaging lifestyle) and more to do with our distance from inspiration.

Whether our inspiration comes from internal or external sources, we can feel uninspired when we’re cut off from that wellspring: maybe you haven’t traveled somewhere new for a while, checked out any new spots or shows, interact with people that are important to you or even just had time to be alone with your own thoughts. In short, you’re stuck in the same dull place for too long—geographically or mentally.

It naturally follows that we need to bring back (read: reschedule) these inspirations into our lives or find new ones. However, an important caveat—especially in our current era—is that we must also have some tangible access to them. FOMO is a thing and the gap between what our situation could be versus what we can realistically achieve in our situation doesn’t always turn into the stuff dreams are made of: it decays into restlessness (despite the intended audience of this particular source, the symptoms certainly apply to all modern humans).

At the other end of lacking inspirational things in our lives is the excess of things that can drain our mental batteries that while constantly evolving, haven’t updated quickly enough to process the new glut of stressors (if they were ever meant to). When this happens, we might start a cascade of rushed, unconscious but poor decisions that take us to a place we might not have wanted to end up.

The Fall Back

Sigh, such is reality that try what we can, following the conventional wisdom of “you just need to chill out” is not always possible and we don’t know what else to do.

  • Do less or quit — temporarily: Where possible, cut out the tasks that will lead you to burnout.
  • Reframe: If the cause is that you’re too overloaded by the situation to even consider seeking out inspiration, is it possible to see this from another angle or find the silver lining? Are we unconsciously starting to catastrophize because of how we view the situation?
  • Counterbalance and offset: If you can’t substantially change your work situation and can’t leave, the only solution is to deliberately counterbalance that with what free time you have.
  • Medicate—RESPONSIBLY: Assuming your lack of inspiration isn’t a symptom of something more serious, responsible non-dependent self-medication remains an option. We already use technology to regulate and adapt to a stressful modern life. Used appropriately, chemical technology can give us the same helping hand. This isn’t a call to abuse substances, but to try out other options such as nootropics.
  • Soul search: If all the articles, chats with friends and podcasts aren’t helping take the “me” time you need to be alone and uncomfortable with your thoughts.
  • Forget “perfect,” just aim to learn: Going out and learning something provides you with a double dose of growth. Acquiring knowledge introduces new stimulus while also touching back on the idea of achievement.

At the end of the day, it’s not always easy to turn that feeling of “meh” into “chyeah!” but it is possible. Creativity isn’t driven by serendipity, it’s about constantly finding solutions through unexpected connections, something we’ve doubled, tripled, quadrupled down on. Like a muscle, it can be trained and enhanced through focus and practice.

September 5, 2019

Companies are not investing in creativity — even when it translates into business value


Companies agree that creativity is the most important factor for sustained commercial success. In spite of that, companies are putting their money into other drivers and unsurprisingly feel the latter aren’t delivering the creativity they need to move forward.

By the numbers

  • Correlation between creativity and financial performance: Top companies in terms of creative score were 67% more likely to have better Organic Revenue Growth, 70% more likely to have better TRS (total return swap) and 74% more likely to have higher EBITDA. (Creativity’s Bottom Line, McKinsey)
  • Creativity as predictor of success: 85% of surveyed CMOs believe creativity and big ideas that build the brand and create emotional connections are the single most important factor for future success. Yet, only 54% of CMOs believe they’re actually delivering on that creativity. (Network CMO survey 2019, Dentsu Aegis)
  • Tech and data trumping creativity: According to Forrester, spending on Data and Analytics, Advertising Technology and Marketing Automation grew 33% between 2017-2019 —twice as fast as overall budgets and five times the rate of spending on creativity.
  • AI to feature heavily: Marketing leaders surveyed reported a 27% increase in incorporating AI and machine learning over 2018 levels. This will increase another 60% within three years, and will be even higher for bigger companies and those that conduct more of their sales via the internet. (The CMO Survey, Duke University Fuqua School of Business)
  • ROI on Creativity: Under one model, shifting tech investments back into creativity would create an 18% ROI over six years. (The Cost of Losing Creativity, Forrester)

Why priorities need to shift

There’s a lot more at stake down the line if companies don’t start re-investing in creativity—that is, allocating more spending towards projects, tools and people that generate fresh ideas, which in turn make them stand out, emotionally connect with their market and get ahead. For one, brands aren’t wowing people anymore: despite the recent emphasis on customer experiences, those have plateaued, especially when it comes to improving brand loyalty and stickiness.

Another issue is “digital sameness.” Whether it’s being able to conveniently book flights or pay in advance for services, functional experiences are now the same. Brand apps and websites both perform and look similar and all serve the exact same customer needs or use cases in the same way. In short, brands are losing their edges and corners, their “intangible” elements in our parlance.


We should note that investing in creativity doesn’t mean putting more money into our accounts, nor does it just apply to large companies. It means valuing creativity as a concept and resource that produces a foundation for future results. This applies to whether you run a small company, run a team within one, or work for yourself.

  • Freedom and head space: At the company level, this could translate into putting time, effort and yes, money, into the infrastructure and culture that spawns new ideas while attracting and retaining talent. This includes supporting amenities and policies that give employees freedom, which result in that much needed head space to both come up with and execute new ideas. We might have the occasional grievance with their buggy updates, but word has it that  the people working for Adobe are living in line with the brand’s vision of promoting creativity through their company culture.
  • A better relationship with technology: Today, creatives and companies have access to a litany of powerful technologies. However, if we can take some learnings from companies splurging on expensive tech to solve all their problems, it’s that we need to consider how these new technologies actually help to support creativity and the brand vision. For instance, does that new app you want to subscribe to save time and energy in the long run, even after an extensive first set up? Is it effective as is out of the box, or can it be adapted to better suit your creative needs? Even more importantly: is there future value for you in the experience of learning to do something rather than leaving it up to tech?
  • Shifting the culture: Arguably, we stumble upon a fork in the road with regards to which side makes the first big moves: do companies realize that they need to keep feeding the Golden Goose and start allocating more money, or does the market (i.e. paying customers) start looking for things they want or haven’t seen yet? Either way, if we want to see changes, we can always be proactive by making our voices heard and taking a firmer stance in regulating the value we offer, thereby increasing it and our leverage.
August 20, 2019

How Algorithms Replaced Gatekeepers and Lowered the Bar on Quality

The fall of last generation’s analog gatekeepers meant that everyone with an internet connection and the desire to create (and share) their work could potentially make a name for themselves. But the social media giants and the spate of algorithmically-driven content that comes with them may have caused more damage to creative expression than any stuffy executive could.

Pre-social media gatekeepers

Among others, these types of powerful positions would decide what works made it to the public consciousness, which remained in a slush pile, and which were rejected altogether. These titles included:

  • Magazine editors
  • TV producers
  • Publishing execs
  • Gallery curators

How things changed

  1. The Internet and especially Facebook democratized fame by allowing anyone’s work to reach a news feed
  2. Almost overnight, major outlets had to share more work to both keep up with the times and to shake the “bad” aspects of their gatekeeper image
  3. Aside from creatives getting their due, there was also a deluge of content of all types
  4. The social media giants introduced algorithms to sift through this massive amount of content, inevitably pushing the most popular, likeable and shareable content to the top

How that made things worse

For one, the rise of the IG artist and the boosted metrics their content brings has shifted entire marketing strategies to favor a very specific set of aesthetics and content. This means a lot of creatives are focusing on their social strategy over their craft to stay afloat.

This also means that in this new age of democratized media where everyone and anyone has a creative voice that can be amplified via shares and likes, there’s less room for critique. No one argues that content with tens of thousands of likes isn’t successful, but is it good?

The new “gatekeeper” is us

Unfortunately, short of creating our own platforms or opting for indie social media, the onus is back on us as individuals to gatekeep for ourselves. We’ve previously outlined this in the Creator’s Paradigm, but here’s a quick overview of some strategies:

  • Taking our own deep dives into that sea of content to find what’s truly meaningful to us
  • Re-evaluating our sources of content and realizing which ones are merely the “easiest” to digest
  • Concentrating all our preferred sources in one spot using apps like Feedly
  • Taking more time to digest quality content (and archiving the best stuff) rather than simply scrolling through forgettable content that’s recommended to us

Or if you’re feeling like filtering all of the internet, apparently there’s a program for that too.


August 13, 2019

Residuals for everyone—selling our data to teach AI


As more companies and organizations start relying on AI, more and more data will be needed to feed (and train) these powerful programs, but not all data is created equal. While some might be valuable, we might not be so ready to share it. But if there were a means of securing our data and earning for every time it was used, would we be more willing to part with it?

Medical researchers start dabbling in AI, but hit wall

Medical professionals are starting to tap into machine learning as a means of furthering their work, especially to find patterns that can help interpret their patient’s test results. Stanford ophthalmologist Robert Chang hopes to use eye scans to track conditions like glaucoma as part of this ongoing tech rush.

The problem, however, is that doctors and researchers have trouble gathering enough data from either their own patients or others because of the way those patients’ data is handled. Indeed, there’s a great deal of medical data that’s silo’d due to different policies on sharing patient information. This makes it challenging to share patient metrics between institutions, and subsequently to reach critical data mass.

Kara and Differential Privacy

Oasis Labs, founded by UC Berkeley professor Dawn Song, securely stores patient data using blockchain technology that encrypts and anonymizes the data while preventing it from being reverse engineered. It also provides monetary incentives to encourage participants, who could be compensated for each time their data is used to train artificial intelligence.

It’s not just the promise of money that’s making them more willing to submit their data. Song and Chang are trialling Kara, a system that uses differential privacy to ensure the AI gets trained on data (stored on Oasis’ platform), but the data remaining invisible to researchers.

Quality Matters

For the medical industry, having access to quality data will become increasingly important as the reliance on AI increases. Quality doesn’t mean individual data points (a grainy eye scan could throw off the machine’s learning) but rather the entire data set.

In order to prevent biases, which AI systems are prone to depending on what data sets they are fed, a system will need particular segments of the population to contribute data to round out its “training.” For this to happen, incentives will need to be carefully weighed and valued. Training a medical AI designed for a general population, for instance, would require samples from a diverse group of individuals including those with less common profiles. To incentivize participation, compensation might be higher for this group.

Otherwise, the designers of the AI could simply choose not to include certain groups as has happened in the past, thus creating a discriminatory AI. In this case, it’s less a matter of the machine that’s learning and more of the people initiating the teaching. That said, the resultant discriminatory AI has the very real power to change the course of peoples’ lives such as by filtering out their job applications.

Data ownership, Dividends and Industries

Despite these drawbacks, a combination of monetization and secure storage of personal data could signal the beginning of a new market where individuals can earn a fee for sharing data that wouldn’t have been shared in the first place; in essence, royalties for being ourselves, assuming we’re “valuable,” that is.

For the creative industry, the consensus is that for all its strides, AI has yet to evolve beyond being a very powerful assistant in the creative process. At present, it can create derivative work that resembles the art it’s been fed, but still lacks the ability to absorb what we know as inspiration. For example, IBM used its Watson AI to create a movie trailer for a horror movie after feeding it 100 trailers from films of that genre with each scene segmented and analyzed for visual and audio traits.

For now, the emergence of a data market doesn’t seem lucrative enough to birth a new class of workers (lest we all quit today to become walking data mines), but supposing the incentives were enticing and a company like Oasis could guarantee that data privacy was ensured, could we see more creators willing to give up some of their work? Perhaps even unpublished work that would never been seen? Would quick file uploads coupled with a hassle-free “for machine learning only” license mean an influx of would-be creators hoping to make data dividends off work they could license elsewhere too?

On one hand, it would provide a way for creatives to earn residuals off their work given that AI needs thousands if not millions of samples and other sources (such as websites for stock creative assets) might not be as lucrative. That said, just as different data sets are needed for different purposes, we might see the emergence of a metrics-based classification system to objectively grade subjective work and assign value to it.

And if those works can be graded, so too can their creators with all the opportunities that follow a “quality data” distinction. Maybe one day when a program like Watson reaches celebrity artist status, we can brag to our peers, “yeah, I taught it that.”

July 15, 2019

What are the immediate benefits and challenges of remote and distributed teams?


Now that it’s easier than ever to assemble teams of talented people across the world—without having to even share an office—what are some of the benefits and challenges faced by these technologically-enabled work arrangements?

 The new normal

In 2013, Scott Berkun authored a book called The Year Without Pants in which he shared his experience working remotely for WordPress. Since then, these non-traditional work arrangements have become the norm at many companies. They are categorised within 3 broad groups:

  • Fully Distributed: Where team members rarely come into the office and work almost exclusively through the Internet, such as WordPress when it first started.
  • Semi-Distributed: Where some of the roles such as leadership or management are staffed at a headquarters that manage distributed team or teams (Hashicorp, Mattermost).
  • Small Offices: Often new offices can be created to start and host functional teams such as support or sales development.

The challenges

While versatile, there are certainly challenges with having an arrangement like this. This includes ensuring good communication strategies across geographies, especially in cases where the team is distributed. In addition, it’s important to share valuable knowledge or decisions made in person by one part of the team across the network. Finally, the largest challenges can sometimes center around hiring and compensating contractors and employees in these teams, especially ensuring that a company’s practices comply with local laws.

Speaking from experience

While technology and global connectivity have made previously unheard of work arrangements possible, the versatility for both the company and the individuals involved (who often enjoy flexible schedules) does come at a price. For distributed teams in creative companies especially, one of the biggest challenges is creating and maintaining a passionate work culture despite a lack of in-person face time with which to exchange ideas on the fly.

What’s more is where dedicated operational personnel is lacking, this chemistry and synergy needs to be maintained through reliable systems that can account for complex detail-oriented creative work. This doesn’t just mean individual programs (such as if a team is sharing an Adobe CC license) but how the myriad of programs in a team’s chosen tech stack play together. In short, for these distributed creative companies to thrive, they must properly use location-freeing technologies. The tech must have limited energy-sapping snags to keep creative juices flowing.

– Nate Kan

May 23, 2019

Breaking down the science of beauty and how it influences creativity


In his 2013 book, The Aesthetic Brain, neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee discusses our brain’s ability to have aesthetic experiences—those deep “magical” moments that leave us in awe. While these responses have evolved out of the same chemical and emotional pathway that helped us survive, they now help us understand why we like the things we like.

What makes an experience aesthetic?

According to Chatterjee, there are certain configurations of sensations and of objects in the world that produce an experience that is qualitatively different than just straight perception.

But what differentiates “aesthetic experiences” from pleasurable ones such as having a good meal or seeing something or someone attractive?

He believes one way aesthetic experiences distinguish themselves is by being self-contained: the experience doesn’t go beyond your own immersion and engagement with experience and it doesn’t come with an impulse to act such as a desire to purchase an object or show it to a friend.

Liking over wanting

Neuroscientist Kent Berridge refers to two systems that work together as part of our brain’s reward system: that of liking and that of wanting. In short, we tend to like the things we want and we want the things we like. Chemically and anatomically, however, they work differently in our brains.

Dopamine’s role in learning is key to helping us get what we want, whereas the “liking” system is purely about pleasure and is mediated by our opioid and cannabinoid receptors. These two systems can be disassociated, however, as in the case of addiction where we want something we don’t necessarily like anymore.

As far as aesthetic experiences go, the liking aspect takes precedence over the wanting aspect; we like for the sake of liking.

The aesthetic triad

Chatterjee and his contemporaries involved in neuroaesthetics believe that there are three means in the brain through which we can have an aesthetic experience and can help understand how our brain is being engaged.

  • Sensor motor circuitry: traditional beauty and scientific sense of “pleasing” aesthetics
  • Emotional and reward circuitry: the wanting and liking system
  • Semantic conceptual circuitry: refers to messages, cultural background, and contextual knowledge

This means that someone could have an aesthetic experience with a piece of art that is not necessarily “beautiful” in the traditional sense but by means of their knowledge of the nuances and concepts behind it and vice versa.

Context and culture

What we consider art and even what is likable to us changes with time and context. Despite our brains having remained largely the same for 150 years, our perceptions of objects that could move us toward an aesthetic experience are fluid and susceptible to influence.

In one Danish study, people were shown abstract images and in one condition, they were told the images were computer-generated with an algorithm. In another, they were told the exact objects were hanging in a gallery. Both the subjects’ verbal responses and imaging of their brain activity suggested they liked the images they thought were in a gallery more.

Our thoughts

Chatterjee’s view of creativity is essentially reconfiguring the problem and seeing it in a different way. He says our current culture emphasizes productivity and a brute force analytic approach to creative solutions without allowing for unstructured downtime—periods of low arousal such as showering or winding down before bed—for organic creative insights to emerge.

For creative people, our perceptions can become our references and our aesthetic experiences our inspirations. But because they can both be shaped and triggered by external contexts, our creativity—that is, our internally derived original thoughts—may very well depend on allocating more of our lives to said downtime. Otherwise, we risk investing more in consuming prevailing narratives instead of writing them ourselves.

May 17, 2019

Adobe Tells Users They Can Get Sued for Using Old Versions of Photoshop


In a move that shocked—or didn’t shock—Adobe users, the company announced that customers could face legal consequences for using old discontinued versions of Photoshop, warning them that they were “no longer licensed to use them.”

This week, Adobe began sending some users of its Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Premiere, Animate, and Media Director programs letters warning that they weren’t legally allowed to use software they had previously purchased.

“We have recently discontinued certain older versions of Creative Cloud applications and and a result, under the terms of our agreement, you are no longer licensed to use them,” Adobe said in the email. “Please be aware that should you continue to use the discontinued version(s), you may be at risk of potential claims of infringement by third parties.”

How we got here

In 2013, Adobe moved away from its original business model, whereby users could purchase hard copies—and continue to use them regardless of later versions being released. The new subscription-based service Adobe Creative Cloud resulted in notably higher revenues due to the constant stream of monthly fees from users. Naturally, requiring users to regularly sign in online to confirm their paid subscription also curtailed the use of pirated or cracked versions of Adobe’s software that became widespread with the previous business model.

Everyone’s gone insane with subscriptions

Adobe’s transition to subscriptions isn’t necessarily new nor unusual. From video games and mobile apps to delivery-based health food plans and even clothing, business models based on subscriptions are extremely common now to ensure the companies providing them have regular cash flow. But the issue with software and other tech is that they are by their nature modifiable via wireless updates, meaning that features can be added, disabled or removed simply by going online. Worse, some companies can make these modifications mandatory and in Adobe’s case, make accepting the modifications mandatory to continue using the software or service.

And as you might have guessed, we’re also complicit in continuing this behavior because the stipulation that the company is free to do so is buried but clearly written in those End User License Agreements we unashamedly skip through and agree to. This gives companies—pardon the pun—free license to modify products that we don’t own in any concrete way and this most recent move extends to products people thought they owned in perpetuity.

What’s to be done?

Seeing as Adobe’s software serves as the industry standards for many creative fields (Premiere for video, Photoshop and Illustrator for graphic design and InDesign for publishing among others), it’s hard to peel away from that software we might have trained on, are used to or the rest of our collaborators are using. For established creatives, that’s a business expense that can certainly pay for itself (assuming you earn over $60 USD a month on projects), but it’s a big upfront cost for artists that are starting out or looking to go digital.

The solution for them? Draw a line in the sand and stick to open source or free programs that are actively maintained and have a community. There’s no Photoshop equivalent industry standard for creative writing work (as much as Microsoft Office wishes) because people care more about the end result more than the software it was produced on. If you have talent or willingness to create good work, even if it means a few more steps to do with free software what some of Adobe CC’s cutting edge technologies could do better and quicker, the portfolio will speak for itself.

For those tired of getting nickel-and-dimed? You might need to take stock of and start Marie Kondo-ing your monthly and yearly subscriptions and decide whether you could put those savings towards more permanent solutions you own (such as making your own NAS in place of regularly paying for cloud storage).

May 3, 2019

How Slack and the open office layout ruined productivity


Advanced workplace communication technologies and a return to humanistic office design were meant to make companies more innovative, making us both happy and productive. They did neither. Where did we go wrong and how do we come away from it?

Productivity Software

Software like Slack, Workplaces and Teams were meant to facilitate communication and get us away from the dreaded overflowing email inbox, but they also brought something just as bad in their wake:

  • The low barrier to entry of communication software means that people share information more frequently and with a significantly decreased quality of content.
  • Work communication becomes its own sort of social media, complete with its distracting allure as a time sink.
  • Rise in performative messaging and information sharing from remote workers to show that they were in fact working at their desks

Open Offices

The open layout of offices where workers are seated within eyeshot of each other or visible behind glass partitions allowed companies to both save on their leases by reducing square footage allotted per employee and give the impression that they were forward thinking and innovative. But this lack of barriers produced some unfavorable results as well:

  • There is no separation from other peoples’ in-person interactions, meaning you’re in earshot of all conversations but even when you have earbuds in, you also aren’t completely focused when things are constantly catching your eyes.
  • 65% of creative people need quiet or absolute silence to do their best work, an environment open offices can’t provide, especially if workers are required to be in office at all times.
  • At many companies, there was an increase in anxiety for women who not only felt personally more pressured by “being on display” all the time, they actually found male coworkers evaluating other female colleagues on their attractiveness, some of many factors that prompted women to seek “hiding spots” where they could find privacy.

How It All Adds Up

When the time lost to distractions in both digital and physical spaces adds up, that subtracts time from normal working hours, which prompts people to multitask hoping to recover that lost time.
The issue is that the length of distractions can increase with the given co-worker(s) and amount of distractions can scale with the size of a given team or department.
This far outweighs a single worker’s capacity to work faster and multitask, which is not actually a thing—it’s the inefficient switching between tasks.

Regardless of the nature of the job (9-5 versus flexible work hours), this almost always results in work being done far beyond regular work hours. While this is certainly fine for the occasional sprint, over time it means an eroded barrier between work and life. And the least productive our best hours of the day are, when we are at our peak focus and energy, the even worse our work is in our off hours.

How We Can Learn From This

Where the individual box-shaped cubicles of the 20th centrury were derided as isolating and alienating us from our coworkers to make mindless drones of us, open offices have made machines of us in different ways: as constantly online, aware, engaged and performing. That said, both styles of work have inherent advantages that can be leveraged to make our time in an office as rewarding as it is productive so we can all go home on time.

  • People are not gears, but we absolutely have them. We need to be able to switch from being inaccessibly focused on our tasks to produce the best work in a given period of time while also being open and attentive to interactions with other people. But we can’t do both at once and we can’t remain in one gear indefinitely. If the space can’t be physically structured to allow us to switch gears, the daily or weekly schedule must.
  • While the romantic notion of the grind and the hustle has simply changed vocabulary and style, in its very concept it means to work harder, but not necessarily smarter. Systems and metrics for KPIs can be oppressive if improperly or unfairly implemented, but these unsexy methods have their place in keeping us focused on what’s important as much as what’s urgent so that have work “diet” that is healthily balanced without too much junk (making office memes, anyone?)
  • For leaders and managers, recognize that provided there are specific measurable goals and deadlines agreed on in advance to measure everyone against, the quieter seemingly distant workers might not necessarily be less committed or involved in a project and the more vocal and active communicators might not necessarily be the most productive either.
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