April @ 2010 @ Weiner Edrich Brown

Larry, Curly and…Moe?

There is a thriving subculture of men and women in Japan who indulge in real relationships with imaginary characters.  These 2-D lovers are a subset of otaku culture – the obsessive fandom that has surrounded anime, video games and the like in Japan in the last decade.

A recent New York Times article recently highlighted this growing subculture:

According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life. According to a government survey, more than a quarter of unmarried men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan said they were not “going out with anybody.”

In Japan, the fetishistic love for characters in 2-D earned its own slang word, moe.  Moe subculture has spawned a substantial market of goods centered on the desire to live in 2-D.  Many2-D lovers attend fan events in search of new character girlfriends to add to their collections, and when unsatisfied with what the market has to offer, they custom-make their own fantasy goods.

Moreover, in Japan, millions of boys and young men are becoming shut-ins in their bedrooms, refusing to come out, some for six months or more, and some for over l5 years.  Called Hikikomori, they are a subset of the children in Japan who commonly live with their parents into their 20s, with many parents supporting their children indefinitely.   According to a Japanese government website, the figure may stand at 3.6 million or about 3 percent of the entire population. One reason for this may be because those in their 20s and 30s, who once settled for odd jobs and part-time work to make ends meet, are now entrenched in an employment rut as they are passed over in favor of new graduates.  A severe marriage gap is also leaving many young Japanese men with very few prospects.  Some see Japan as facing a significant youth crisis.

So, what are your thoughts on this seemingly “fringe” behavior?  Is there any possibility of this eventually becoming mainstream? What does this mean for the future of Japan’s youth culture?

The Future of Education

Here is a link to a blog post about the future of education that our President, Edie Weiner, authored nearly 2 years ago on SyFy’s excellent “Visions For Tomorrow” blog. Like the rest of Weiner, Edrich, Brown’s content, this piece remains  (and will continue to remain) highly relevant with the passage of time. The state of education, both in the U.S. and abroad, is an issue that we here at WEB continuously pay careful attention to. A very interesting read…


The Eternal Debate: Nature vs. Nurture

The popularly contested nature versus nurture debate is as appealing as it is unresolvable in answering the question: how and why do we become who we are?  While some believe that people behave according to genetic predispositions, others believe that people think and behave in certain ways because they are taught to do so.

While it is oftentimes difficult to disentangle the two, advancements in genetics, neurobiology and technology, in combination with widespread societal shifts, are blurring the line in this age-old debate by helping us more fully understand how both heredity and environment shape who we are.

In a new book called The Temperamental Thread, its author, Jerome Kagan, works to untangle some of the complexities behind human personality and behavior.  According to an article in the New Scientist:

…everyone is born with a biologically based temperamental bias that is evident in infancy and influences our future behavior, but how that pans out as we grow up depends strongly on a range of factors such as our ethnicity and gender, how our parents treat us, their social class, the size of our home town and whether or not we have older siblings.

While this eternal debate may never fully be solved, our fast-growing understanding of the human brain and the human genome has shifted the discussion from being simply about how nature or nurture shape behavior, to how each contributes, and in what ways and to what extent, to human development.  In many cases, we are still largely ignorant about the biology that underlies behavioral predispositions and the cascade of psychological processes that flow from them.

From a marketing perspective, there is clearly much we still need to learn about how and why people choose products and respond to marketing appeals.  To the extent that these are genetically determined, more knowledge can help make both product development and marketing more cost effective.

An Update From Our President, Edie Weiner

The future is a hotter topic than ever. We at WEB have been writing and lecturing about the emerging Virtual Economy for over 5 years, preparing our clients to see the fundamental shifts it is ushering in regarding value propositions, product and service offerings, social and political trends, and technological advances. Now that the economy appears somewhat robust, we see many more executives looking for resources to help them prepare for a very different world to come. Our business has benefited by that, and aside from an increase in our consulting work, in the first third of this year I have headed out for many interesting talks.

It began in January, working in Abu Dhabi for the Department of Economic Development, helping the senior leadership of the Dept. realize their strategic vision for the country. Then off to Davos, to keynote the Financial Times opening dinner for the world Economic forum. In February, I was the closing speaker at the Imagine Solutions Conference in Naples, Florida, which is a new TED-like conference developed by the Searching For Solutions Institute.  A few other trips later, and I was not only keynoting the first WBENC (Women Business Enterprise National Council) Salute and summit, but running many of their other sessions there in D.C. as well.  Over the next month, I will be doing a number of talks, including a guest lecture at the U.S. Army War College, the keynote for the Global Spa Summit in Istanbul, and the keynote for the WLE (Women’s Leadership Exchange) Virtual Summit. And then, on June 23rd, I will be honored by NOW NYC (the largest NOW chapter in the country) with their 2010 Woman of Power and Influence Award at their annual Gala here in New York. It’s too early to talk of all the things already on the calendar for the second half the year.

Of course, none of this includes our regular ongoing work with our clients, which continues to be exciting and groundbreaking. We are finding that our client companies are more eager than ever to move on with their challenges and opportunities, and to tap our understanding of the forces that will change their future. We all love the work we do, and now that we have harnessed multiple forms of communication with all of you, we expect that you will be hearing all kinds of interesting things from us in the months to come. Jared Weiner and Erica Orange are taking the lead in bringing our work to life for you, and I hope you are enjoying their blogs, tweets, and enhanced website offerings. Arnold Brown and I are excited about having this new generation of leadership in WEB, and the feedback from many of you so far has been wonderful.

Please remember that despite all the gloom and doom in the world (and much of it is warranted), there is  till a lot of good going on. The world and all of its aspects are fundamentally changing. And the new opportunities for all of us, as enterprises, regions, organizations and individuals, only multiply with time. Getting on with the business of life is sometimes difficult, but always rewarding. It’s all part of the journey into tomorrow. As we always say, the future will happen with or without you. So join us in trying to make it a better place to be.

The New GOP: The Genetics of Politics

Even though public opinion polls show a general distaste for partisan divisions, a rising tide of political partisanship is sweeping into many aspects of American public life.  Witness the several recent examples of how partisanship and ideology have replaced civil discussion and pragmatism.  How many times have players from both sides of the political aisle tried to persuade the other side to think a certain way? And how many times does this actually work?  Both sides continually struggle to understand where the other is coming from…oftentimes with very little to no success.

Theorists have long speculated on how factors such as age, gender, race, marital status, education, income, home ownership, political knowledgeability and church attendance affect and influence political leanings.  But we are learning that these external factors do not play as much of a role as we once thought.

Increasingly, political positions are seen to be largely determined by biological factors.  According to John Alford (political scientist, Rice University, Houston), “Political tendencies are like being left-handed or right-handed — you’re born feeling more natural using one hand or the other.  It doesn’t mean you can’t switch — for many years lefties were taught to be righties.  But it’s not easy.”

Based on a 2008 article in the New Scientist called “Born That Way,” opinions on a long list of issues from religion in schools to nuclear power and gay rights were found to have a substantial genetic component.  Liberals and conservatives even have different patterns of brain activity.

Two groups pulling in different directions will always characterize politics.  However, if these groups are genetically hard-wired to disagree, what does this mean for the future of debate and policy analysis?

“Effreshency”: Random Promotion & the Peter Principle?

In our last post, we defined and explored “effreshency” — a new organizational paradigm that WEB has identified moving into the future. A refresher formula:

Efficient + Effective + Innovative + Adaptable + Inclusive + Accountable = Effreshent

Another  fascinating recent development in this area…

Random Promotion & the “Peter PrinciplePsychologist Laurence Peter posited the “Peter Principle:” people in a workplace are promoted until they reach their  maximum level of incompetence. Italian Scientists have now discovered that this might be avoided by the rather counterintuitive idea of promoting people at random. While only theoretical, sometimes it takes a novel approach like this to affect real organizational change.

One blogger offers an insightful take on this issue here, discussing (among other things) how randomized algorithms can sometimes mitigate the undesirable effects of deterministic models.

Another blogger evaluates the profound implications that a newly-conceived structure borne out of this type of research would have on an organization and its employees. What if “promotions” were no longer the ultimate end goal?

Is this a truly “effreshent” approach for the future, or unrealistic and ill-conceived? Whatever the response to that question, it’s clear that we always have to maintain an objective lens when assessing the validity of this kind of research. Findings obtained within a controlled research environment may or may not translate into practical application within an organizational context. We will keep you abreast of any updates on this and related topics going forward…

“Effreshency”: Employment Guarantee or Tuition Refund?

In the context of today’s rapid technological and economic change, organizations around the world are faced with daunting challenges. Traditional thinking is no longer optimizing results, and an entirely new model is emerging – one that we at WEB call “effreshency.” Effreshency refers to the implementation of new and “fresh” strategies that improve upon and revolutionize traditional thinking about six distinct areas of organizational performance that are often viewed separately. Effreshency breaks tradition in all of these six areas simultaneously, and moving forward it will increasingly be the recipe for a sustainable, profitable and competitive organization. The equation for this new model can be expressed as follows:

Efficient + Effective + Innovative + Adaptable + Inclusive + Accountable = Effreshent

A  fascinating recent development…

Job Guarantee…or Tuition ReimbursementA community college in Michigan has started offering potential applicants money-back guarantees, in an effort to increase enrollment. Beginning in May, people who take six-week courses in certain subjects will be guaranteed a job within a year – or else they will be refunded their tuition. This is certainly an unorthodox idea, particularly for a school in Lansing, Michigan – where unemployment is at 11.7%. The guarantee will apply to the four most in-demand technical jobs in the area: call-center specialists, pharmacy technicians, quality inspectors and computer machinists.

If successful, this approach will conceivably touch upon each of the six variables in the above effreshency equation. Most notably, the school is taking a fresh approach toward accountability — plus it is showing clear adaptability in the face of a challenging enrollment environment.

Is this a truly “effreshent” approach for the future, or unrealistic and ill-conceived? The figures on exponentially increasing tuition costs in the U.S. are staggering. Additionally, the debt burden on the average student, coupled with difficulties in job placement, can be crippling. Is this new model set to catch fire as the wave of the future in higher education, or is it a quirky strategy doomed to fail? It remains difficult to envision top-ranked and prestigious universities ever being forced to implement this sort of strategy, but perhaps community colleges will serve as a beta test. Regardless of the outcome, there’s little argument as to the marketing buzz being generated here.

Virtual Summit: Women’s Leadership Exchange

On May 26th, the Women’s Leadership Exchange is organizing it’s first-ever Virtual Summit.  The Virtual Summit will bring women from all around the world together for a day of knowledge, tools, resources and connections — all via the Internet.

Our President, Edie Weiner, is their closing keynote speaker.  Participants of the conference can hear Edie speak via streaming video.  She will be talking about how your business can grow by taking advantage of the most important trends of the decade.  She is currently preparing for the Summit, along with Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post.

Workshops at the Summit include: New Rules of Marketing and PR, Winning Business Strategies for 2010, and Social Media and Sales.

To register for the conference and hear Edie speak, click here.

Huggy Pajamas

Widespread technological advancements are changing the ways in which people interact with the machines that play such a vital and prominent role in their lives, and non-carbon life forms are taking on greater significance in our day-to-day lives.  Non-carbon life forms consist of networks, robots, structures, electronic devices/systems and virtual entities. We are entering a future in which decisions in the home, in the marketplace, in the workplace will increasingly be made by these entities.

As a result, many children are growing up in a technologically complex world that combines artificial intelligence, robotics and mechanical engineering.  Children are increasingly coming to love and care for these non-carbon life forms, especially as toys become both more robotic and more life-like.  Many toys are now designed to elicit emotional responses too, as well as display a sense of self-awareness, and the ability to change their behavior over time.

A new device out of Japan embodies this trend.  Introducing…the Huggy Pajama – a new wearable system aimed at promoting physical interaction in remote communication between parent and child.

This system allows parents and children to virtually “embrace” one another through a hugging interface device, and a wearable, hug reproducing pajama connected through the Internet. The parents are then tasked with hugging a small mobile doll with an embedded pressure sensing circuit. This pajama is able to simulate a hug to the wearer as well as generate warmth to accompany the hug, display color changes according to distance of separation between parent and child, and display emoticons.

Perhaps, in the future, larger iterations will be developed for love-starved couples in long-distance relationships, lonely business travelers, hospitalized patients, elderly in nursing homes, etc.  Staying emotionally connected over physical distance via wearable technology has a variety of applications for the future.

Attention Distraction

The ability to communicate—and be communicated to—constantly, cheaply and effortlessly is creating so much noise in the system that it is a wonder anyone can pay attention to anything for very long.  Even though young people appear to be more adept at multitasking than were their predecessor generations, it is obvious that they, too, are in a state of almost constant distraction.  We have all heard about ADD and ADHD, almost ad nauseum, but the latest malady afflicting developed (and increasingly developing) societies is something we call Attention Distraction.

Walk along a sidewalk in any city, and you see countless people—talking on their cells, texting, doing whatever it is they’re doing on their Blackberries—unaware of where they are walking, unobservant of traffic lights and indifferent to the people around them.  In the office, online game playing, blogging (myself not included at this moment!), IMing and e-mailing take up more and more of the time of workers at all levels.

According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, text messaging and mobile phone use by teens has skyrocketed over the past year and a half.  The study said that 54 percent of teens were daily texters and that 15 percent send more than 200 text messages a day. That’s equal to nearly 6,000 texts a month. For many teens, cell phones have become a fundamental and irreplaceable part of life.  And not only that, but many are becoming addicted to the technology (I like to affectionately call these people “technaddicts”).

But aside from the real physical dangers that can come from being distracted, what will this trend towards attention distraction mean when this generation of distracted young people enter the workforce? Will they carry their distractibility into management, or will the challenges of management focus them more?  In today’s rapidly paced, highly competitive world, distracted management could be fatal.  This is only the beginning, as the continued development of technology will add ever more possibilities of distraction.