Read on the street 30 November 2019

"From the Dolliverse to the doggie-verse"

Good morning,

This week I was given the opportunity to spend a fascinating evening imagining the novel concept of what life might look like in post-Brexit Britain. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one struggling to persuade my grey matter to contemplate living beyond the woeful doldrums many of us seem stuck in. But once I did, I felt a growing sense of wary optimism brewing in my small corner of the room, a sense of optimism that came from giving myself permission to think differently, if just for a few hours.

And allowing space in all our lives to radically rethink the role of business, science and culture in society is what we need, not the hackneyed repackaging of old binary solutions. To misquote Einstein, I firmly believe we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them. We need to embrace new ways of thinking and be open to looking for new ideas that may sometimes appear in the most unexpected places.

In the words of the inimitable Clive James: “if you don't know the exact moment when the lights will go out, you might as well read until they do.” Perhaps we can read ourselves out of this mess - or maybe Dolly has the answer.

Along came Dolly

Whilst trying to make sense of her own world, Dolly Parton has united different tribes of people from every community for decades. She is as popular in the LGBTQ community as she is revered by Republicans. Nelson Mandela gained the friendship of the guards over the long years on Robben Island and they would allow him to play music. What did he choose? Dolly Parton of course, and specifically, Jolene. That song about the "other woman" that isn't hateful like most "cheating other woman" songs, but instead describes exactly how desirable Jolene is to devastating effect, cuts to the heart of the magic of Dolly. She is a beacon of forgiveness, kindness and absolutely amazing music and I bow before her incredible talents. 

Listen to Luminary Podcasts.

The familiar fable of female victimhood

This piece by Dani Garavelli comes in a week which saw global protests denouncing violence against women. It begs the question: in this post-Me-Too era, how is misogyny allowed to prevail in our institutions, which are so clearly yet to get a grip on one of the most neglected issues of our time? 

Read in The Scotsman

Why women don’t want to work at your tech start-up

With technology firms shaping our future in so many ways, the degree of gender disparity in tech firms remains a huge issue. To a large extent these workplaces have failed to evolve and are maintaining a dangerous status quo with significant implications for society at large.

Read at Fast Company.

Let’s talk about it

The slow din of soundbites that have characterised this election so far easily rank this podcast among the better quality debates you will listen to before December 12. But whilst I wouldn't go as far to describe this as "the tech election" (nor the Brexit or green elections, for that matter), the team at Talking Politics led by Professor David Runciman do ask pertinent questions to whoever sits in Downing Street next: is China winning the AI wars against the West? Is private company ownership of mass consumer data the only way forward? And can big tech really be brought to heel in liberal democracy? 

Listen to the Talking Politics Podcast.

No end in sight for facial recognition

Quartz looks at how facial recognition is creeping into increasing numbers of consumer products. While smartphones and social media sites have been hoovering up this data for some time, it is now even becoming a selling point for a new e-bike. The question is, where does it all end? 

Read on Quartz.

Making use of business

It’s time to rethink the purpose business for society, and more specifically, to redefine the role of corporations. In his new report for the British Academy, Professor Colin Mayer argues that we should be thinking of businesses as tools for solving some of the most significant challenges of our time including the environment and inequality, but adds that the corporate structure of many companies in Britain makes delivering such benefits extremely challenging.

Read at BBC News.

Leftish economics and a new take on capitalism: why are politicians listening to Mariana Mazzucato?

An economist based at University College London, Mazzucato is trying to change the way society thinks about economic value. She believes her left-leaning peers have been too quick to wholly dismiss capitalism. Instead, she has been reimaging its basic premises. Where does growth come from? What is the source of innovation? How can the private and state sectors work together? The left has for too long been focusing on redistribution; now it needs to look at wealth creation.

Read in the New York Times

A collaboration nation In the MHRA Annual Lecture 2019, Professor Sir John Bell explores how, by bringing together academia, the NHS, pharmaceuticals, biotech and diagnostics industries, as well as harnessing our digital capabilities, Britain could create real opportunities for economic growth and a diverse, vibrant future.

Watch on YouTube.

The dog days are over

Who would the British be without their pets? According to research by the Retired Greyhound Trust (RGT) and coach operator, Greyhound UK, 77% of pet owners think of their pet as an additional member of the family. More than a quarter (29%) of pet owners think referring to themselves as ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ when talking to their pets is acceptable, while 32% said that including their pet in a family photo is acceptable.

But despite our deep appreciation of our canine friends, there’s not always a happy ending. A number of once much loved breeds have died out in Britain, mostly due to their usefulness having run its natural course. Who needs foot-warmers, spit turners or quick ways of rescuing warriors from the battlefields these days?

Maybe there is some truth in the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Although it might be time to try.

Read in Country Life.

Written by Sarah Buchanan-Smith, Consulting Partner