Your weekly helping of five interesting ideas to take you into the weekend. Curated by Good Business and delivered straight to your inbox first thing on a Friday if you subscribe here.
(1) The Language of Economics
If you struggle to focus after the first page when reading lengthy economic reports, don’t worry: you aren’t alone. In fact, just one in five people can read and comprehend the Bank of England’s inflation report. It was this finding that prompted staff at the Bank to study the writing style of Dr Seuss, in a push to make communications more succinct and accessible for the general public. Nemat Shafik, the former deputy governor for markets at the Bank, recently described Dr Seuss as “a master at using simple language.” Famously, Dr Seuss used a vocabulary of only 50 words to write Green Eggs and Ham. While we think this is genius, not everyone in the economics world feels the same. The chief economist at the World Bank, Paul Romer, stepped down this week after staff expressed vexation at being told to write succinctly. In an email to staff, Romer declared that the bank’s flagship publication, the World Development Report, would not be published “if the frequency of ‘and’ exceeds 2.6%.” There is a lot to be said for writing clear and tight prose. George Orwell was a firm believer that the corruption of language signals the corruption of society; only those who have something to hide obfuscate. Faced with widespread public suspicion of experts, institutions everywhere would do well to forget “Bankspeak” and remember Orwell’s timeless six rules of writing. And if you are still stumped after that, we highly recommend checking out our friend Chris West’s team at Verbal Identity.
(2) Fairtrade or Fairly Traded?
A wise man once said, “there is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.” But when the trouble itself is whether or not your tea should be Fairtrade or Fairly Traded, then that one might just take the biscuit. The announcement by Sainsbury’s that it plans to remove the Fairtrade logo from its own brand tea and replace it with its own pilot scheme, Fairly Traded, has brewed up quite the storm. While both initiatives assure a fair price for tea and a social premium for farmers, Fairtrade’s social premium allows farmers to choose how to spend it in the community, be it on roads, farming or schools, while Fairly Traded’s social premium will be geared towards specific projects such as climate change adaptation. Critics are concerned that the new model will disempower farmers by removing choice and take us back to a traditional aid model. Others, including Oxfam’s ethical trade manager, expressed concern that the new initiative may not match or build on the standards of the Fairtrade Foundation. Sainsbury’s isn’t alone in its approach; Illy has long argued that the money it saves by not being part of the Fairtrade movement has a far more positive impact when channelled into its education and support programmes for farmers. Similarly, as more big brands become Fairtrade, more and more smaller brands are creating their own models. Take Belazu: its ethos is founded on direct relations with individual suppliers and it’s a story it’s proud to tell. While the move makes sense for Sainsbury’s from a strategic standpoint - allowing it to align more of its spend with its strategic objectives - turning its back on a widely recognised institution that it has supported for over 20 years could damage the brand. But at the same time, as consumer awareness evolves and independents forge their own paths, do we still need such established endorsements for a product to be ‘good’?
(3) Doing Good Business
What does it mean to do good business? This is the question being posed this week by our friends at Hour of Writes. Hour of Writes is a weekly peer-reviewed writing competition that was invented to give people an outlet for their creative, crafted thoughts. The idea is simple; each week you have one hour to write 2,000 words on a given title - your piece is then read and reviewed by both the Hour of Writes team and your fellow writing enthusiasts, combining the best elements of a democratic talent show with a constant poetic dialogue. Hour of Writes is, in essence, a home for those with a penchant for creative expression through the art of writing, seeking a more noble audience than AngryNobody101 lurking in the comments section of every Wordpress blog. This week’s topic, ‘doing good business’, is, of course, one we here at Good Business have a lot to say about so we will all be throwing our hats into the ring on this one in the hope of glory (and the £50 prize!). If you have a spare hour between now and 11pm GMT tonight and want to get your creative juices flowing, get involved here. And if you do take part, please send your contribution to Friday5@good.business and we’ll put the best one (from someone who doesn’t work for us!) on our blog and include it in a future Friday 5.
(4) A Story to Change the World
Did you know that the power to build a better world sits in your bookshelf? It’s true, and that’s what EmpathyLab is on a mission to show us on Empathy Day on 13th June. EmpathyLab is a new organisation led by Miranda McKearney OBE, that aims to use stories to build empathy in an ever-divided world. Neuroscience research shows that the emotions we feel for fictional characters wire our brains to have the same sort of sensitivity towards real people. On Empathy Day parents will receive a free Read for Empathy guide full of recommendations and research-based tips on how to build children’s ability to understand others, pilot schools will hold Empathy Award ceremonies to celebrate children’s choices of book characters showing exceptional empathy, and authors will take to social media to recommend books that helped them understand others better using the hashtag #ReadforEmpathy. The day is hoping to build new approaches to developing this core life skill, which feels more important than ever right now. The power of storytelling to resonate with people is undisputed and more and more brands are trying to tap into it to create a stronger connection with their consumers. Take Lynx’s campaign challenging stereotypes of masculinity, #IsItOkforGuys. The brand bought up search ads on terms about male issues, displaying results with responses from influential male figures who shared their stories on why it’s fine. We think it’s brilliant to see EmpathyLab using this power to change the world for the better. Come 13th June, what book will you be sharing with the world? Tell us, at Friday5@good.business or tweet us (@gbminds) using the hashtag #ReadforEmpathy.
(5) The Good Book Club: Utopia for Realists
Time for another instalment in our Good Book Club. Claire’s been reading Utopia for Realists, by Rutger Bregman, and dreaming of a better future.
It's hard not to like the idea of a book that promises to answer our questions about the future, society, work, happiness, family and money. When the headlines scream about the failure of the social safety net, plummeting incomes, environmental collapse and the rise of extremism, the notion that there are solutions to these problems that we could, if we had the conviction and the self-belief, implement relatively easily is immensely beguiling. This is the promise of Utopia For Realists. It has been hugely popular and it’s easy enough to see why - it's immensely readable, packed with great stories and quotable facts, and much more accessible than other books that attempt a reworking of the capitalist model, such as The Spirit Level or Capital. While the book is ambitious in its vision, it's rather light on the detail of how we could implement that vision. The lengthy section in support of a basic income - giving everyone the same amount of money and abandoning complicated attempts at redistribution - advances some compelling case studies from recent and distant history, and makes a convincing moral case, but doesn't ever really explain where the money would come from to fund it, how much would be needed, and what other government spending would be reduced as a result. It’s the same with the other major arguments in the book – a 15 hour work week sounds great, and in the knowledge economy it may well be feasible, but it’s hard to imagine how this would work for carers, cleaners, security guards, or any other role that requires people 24/7. So realistic it certainly isn’t. And it isn’t what a lot of people would necessarily recognise as Utopian. But there’s no doubt that at the end of the book, you’ll feel smarter and better informed, and perhaps with a trace of hope that things might, just might, get better if we set our minds to it.