October 10, 2019

How the English Language's Disproportionate Influence Skews Global Narratives

No one questions English’s status as the world’s go-to language for business, tech, tourism and academia, but that popularity has also made it disproportionately influential on news. In a chapter of Hostwriter’s Unbias the News: Why Diversity Matters for Journalism, journalist, writer and managing editor of the Global Investigative Journalism Network Tanya Pampalone looks at how English’s prominent status can lead to skewing of entire narratives. We break down an excerpt of that chapter published for GIJN and look at how this inequality also means missed opportunities for interactions between the non-native and non-English speaking world, creative or otherwise.

By the Numbers

Kai Chan, a distinguished fellow at the INSEAD Innovation and Policy Initiative, put together the Power Language Index in 2016, which measures which languages in the world hold the most influence based on five key factors.

  • (G)eography: countries spoken, land area, tourists (inbound)
  • (E)conomy: GDP, PPP, Exports, FX market, SDR composition
  • (C)ommunications: Native speakers, second-language speakers, language family size, tourists (outbound)
  • (K)nowledge & Media: Internet content, feature films, Top 500 universities, academic journals.
  • (D)iplomacy: United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Supranational Organizations (SNOs).

Based on these factors, Kai presented the world’s top 10 languages, their respective number of native speakers and their score for each factor:

  1. English: 460 mil (G1, E1, C1, K1, D1)
  2. Mandarin: 960 mil (G6, E2, C2, K3, D6)
  3. French: 80 mil (G2, E6, C5, K5, D1)
  4. Spanish: 470 mil (G3, E5 C3, K7, D3)
  5. Arabic: 295 mil (G4, E9, C6, K18, D4)
  6. Russian: 150 mil (G5, E12, C10, K9, D5)
  7. German: 92.5 mil (G8, E3, C7, K4, D8)
  8. Japanese: 125 mil (G27, E4, C22, K6, D7)
  9. Portuguese: 215 mil (G7, E19, C13, K12, D9)
  10. Hindi: 310 mil (G13, E16, C8, K2, D10)

These numbers don’t include the number of non-native speakers. In the case of English, Kai’s research reports over 500 million people who speak it as a secondary language. Other figures place the total number of English speakers at between 1.5 and 2 billion people.

The Perceptual Impact of English

This staggering influence of a single language that came about through various blends of colonialism, commerce, religion, media, and education, extends into many industries including that of news.

In their analysis of 54 million news items from 4,708 news sources in 67 countries in 2015, researchers Lei Guo and Chris J. Vargo found that wealthier countries both attract most of the world news attention and are also more likely to decide how other countries perceive the world.

Miraj Chowdhury, the Bengali editor for the multilingual Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), points out how two newspapers in Bangladesh have circulations of over 500 million, yet the English-language Daily Star with only 50 million dominates the international narrative about that country.

Quality withstanding, it represents a situation where a single source disproportionately shapes a perspective not because of what it does, but simply because of what it is. This dynamic has profound effects on both the news and journalism industries:

  • A story isn’t a story until it surfaces in English: Journalists Ben Nimmo and Aric Toler wrote about the Russian journalists who exposed the troll factory back in 2013, before it was involved with American politics.
  • Awards can’t judge non-English assess properly: Unathi Kondile, South African editor of a Xhosa paper, points out how judges can only properly assess Afrikaans or English written content. This means submitting Xhosa content for consideration becomes a waste of time.
  • Applications based on English ability, not talent: Journalists have to submit applications to international conferences and fellowships in English, which does not reflect their journalistic talent but does affect their chances.
  • Translations skew perspective towards English readers: Journalists quoting non-English-speaking subjects might be forced to translate terms that have no common or accurate English equivalent. Similarly, emphasizing interviews conducted in English can mean a less than accurate picture.

Linguistic Privilege

Seeing the ‘p’ word might trigger a few eye rolls, but in the context of a globalized world, this one can’t be ignored because it applies to basically anyone reading this analysis and because it remains a source of inequality far beyond the world of journalism.

Linguistic privilege is yet another package of benefits we can unwittingly receive whether we’re native or near-native speakers of English. It’s also one we’re less likely to feel because after all, we’re all speaking the same language, right?

Yet we aren’t always speaking it on the same level. When we interact with people who are non-native speakers (especially with a poor command of the language) or people with impeded speech, it’s easy to forget how uneven things are. To give some examples of how “not all languages are created equal.”

  • “A language is a dialect with an army and navy”: Many regions have a prestige variant of language that is still held in a high standard such as Received Pronunciation (the “Queen’s English”) for the UK and General American English within the States. While there are actually many accents and dialects of English, only a handful that almost always includes those two, command the same impact. This is why they dominate ESL materials and the aspirational goals of many learners.
  • The cool factor: If you take English, pair it with digital media and package it with modern aesthetics, it makes for a very effective vector for spreading language and its associated culture (and potentially politics) — and for having it be received more readily. It goes without saying, English is not one of the most widely spoken and officially supported languages, it’s one of the coolest too.
  • Mobility: Of all the non-native languages we’ll see while traveling, there’s a much higher chance it’s going to be English. Even if native words are not translated for us to understand, having them transliterated for us to reference (such as on road signs) is already enabling us to travel and move around with ease.

The Key Takeaways

It’s very easy to dismiss the issues of non-native speakers as “well, you gotta learn English. That’s the way the world works,” but this attitude might only be accurate for so long. The number of secondary-language English speakers is rising daily, and more and more people are growing up speaking more than one language.

This isn’t a call to “stop being ig’nant,” and go out and learn a foreign language (though there’s plenty of other benefits in doing so, even if they’re not cognitive). It’s a reminder to recognize the place English still has in our globalized world, where that reputation came from and how that can skew entire dynamics.

So next time you find yourself in situations where English is the lingua franca between you and another person:

  • Dial back: This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to “dumb down” your language, but scale back the in-jokes, the pop culture references, the jargon and the slang. You might be understood better if you used less of them.
  • Slow down: We get it, it’s hard to be patient when time is money. But be aware of how stressful it is for some non-native speakers to try and communicate with you all the same. Consider slowing down when you’re speaking and process what people feel and intend versus purely the words they’re using when you’re listening.
  • Let them breathe: Similarly, if someone is translating for you on the spot, keep in mind that it is also a challenge and stress you don’t have the burden of. Let the person helping you know they can relax if you don’t need the play-by-play or be polite when you do want to know what’s being said.
  • Empathize: If there’s miscommunication, try to think from a communication problem-solving standpoint towards understanding and common ground versus whose understanding is to blame. Everyone’s seen the rude tourist who assumes they’ll be understood better by being louder, getting more irate and gesturing more wildly. Don’t be traveler.
  • Dig deeper: Assumptions already mess things up between native speakers, the same applies when communicating with non-English speakers. There’s no harm in asking questions to get the full story or more details. If there’s content or a good story on the line, it’ll be much better for it.

English, like a lot of cultural capital, is something that’s so widespread now that it becomes its own thing depending on the region. There are as many varieties of English as there are music genres.

In the case of a “foreign” accent, it often means another language is pulling on it, affecting the way it sounds and making it unique. Like with any sound outside of your comfort zone, it might sound strange and you might not appreciate all of its nuances, but recognize there’s a scene for it, one you gotta respect either way. Who knows, your next client, collaborator, friend or opportunity might come from it.

October 3, 2019

Foot Locker Bets On Cultural Authenticity With Greenhouse Incubator

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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 5, 2019

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

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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.

Solutions

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.
April 18, 2019

Maslow's pyramid of needs never originated from Maslow's work

Maslow pyramid of needs management colnsultants
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Maslow’s (in)famous pyramid of needs is often a focal point for many cultures managers as they think about their workforce and their needs. The psychologist did indeed think through the hierarchy of needs, but he was not responsible for organizing it in those colorful triangles you may have seen before. In fact, a management consultant came up with the design. The twist? It was based on a deep misinterpretation of Maslow’s thoughts and work.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was a theory in psychology conceived in 1943 that featured a multi-step pyramid. It was part of his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation.”  The pyramid was meant to showcase that for one to “level-up,” they would need to achieve certain goals in their current level to maintain motivation, and ultimately arrive at “self-actualization.”

A brief history of Maslow’s life

Maslow’s life is a bit of an Odyssey in itself. Born to immigrant parents, he grew up in a traditional Jewish household in Brooklyn, NY, and was often bullied. The hatred he encountered led him to psychology as he looked to better understand the source of these feelings. The psychologist had a prodigious mind which helped him attend numerous universities and develop his theories over time. His work primarily focused on human improvement using a new base as opposed to standard Freudian frameworks which were the norm at the time. Prior to his death, he argued that self-actualization (the highest strata of the pyramid) was (wrongly) biological, leaving out certain individuals and communities by design. Ultimately, his work stood the test of time largely because of management’s infatuation with the said framework.

Why it matters

We’ve discussed management techniques in the past, but Maslow’s work truly shaped today’s understanding of work. Charles McDermid, a psychologist at a Wisconsin-based consulting firm, originally created the pyramid based on his misunderstandings. However, this altered the work forever and sent ripple effects we still feel today. Indeed, the pyramid embodies post-war ideologies, especially around individualism, nationalism and capitalism. Purely through its shape, it falsely concludes that we must fulfil each step to move upwards. Likewise, not everyone can reach the apex in this context, creating a highly centralized power structure. This ultimately justifies pay gaps, certain treatment of individuals and mismanagement practices. However, we know from studies (and life itself) that things don’t work that way. People can be self-actualizing at any given point, without having to wait to be at the top of the pyramid. Maslow did little to critique this over time, instead living off-of the misinterpretation.

In the cultural context, Maslow’s hierarchy is also incorrect

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is presented from a “Western perspective.” In Asian and more collectivist societies, they share different motivations that are more community-focused. A redesigned Asian pyramid ultimately ties in with the idea of “face” as a sociological concept. Face entails behaviors and customs that are tied to morality, honor, and authority. To level up to is to increase the amount of “face” you possess.

Tying it back to work and a flat pyramid society

If anything, we are seeing reversing trends across workplaces. Whilst there are still many environments and cultures that are top-heavy, more places are changing, empowering employees at all levels to take more initiatives. As the pyramid flattens out, so too do the ideas associated with the antiquated framework. Younger employees inevitably challenge organizations to improve and offer more than just a paycheck, especially in an environment of constant fear of layoffs. Rather than box people into a simple framework, companies tackle problems holistically instead. This leads to greater job satisfaction, productivity, and dare we say it, self-actualisation.

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