The Apple CEO said he came out four years ago to help young gay people who were being bullied or abused.
Read more: huffingtonpost.com
The Apple CEO said he came out four years ago to help young gay people who were being bullied or abused.
Read more: huffingtonpost.com
23-year-old jockey Drayden Van Dyke recently met with Santa Anita’s Zoe Cadman and Alexis Garske for observations from one of So-Cal’s brightest young stars, well on his way to becoming one of racing’s signature riders.
Much has been made of the mentors who have guided you, but what have you learned on your own?
“I’ve definitely had to learn some things first-hand. You have to make some of your own mistakes that teach a lesson you couldn’t be told. That’s the kind of stuff you have to learn on your own.”
What’ one of the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made?
“Not showing up for workers when I was an apprentice. I was working with Tom Proctor and had rented a house with Mike Smith in Del Mar. It was my first summer and I was excited. I had spent a lot but unfortunately, I had to stay in the tack room for a week as punishment.
“At least I could see the moon from my bed (laughing).”
Favorite racehorse of all time?
“There are a lot of them but definitely Justify is up there for me. To be involved in the history that he made and to be able to break his maiden and work him is really cool to me.”
Have you ever wanted to play another sport?
“I would love to play basketball, if I had the size, definitely. Second behind that would be golf. I don’t have a handicap but I shoot in the mid-80’s.
“Even when I play for fun, I like to be competitive. I’ll play for fun but the fun goes away and I’m definitely trying to win. I enjoy it, but I’m definitely always trying.”
Beer or wine?
Cardi B or Nicki Minaj?
“(Laughs) Well, who won the fight the other day?”
Football or Baseball?
What did you eat last night?
“Scrambled eggs with avocado and broccoli. Yes, eggs for dinner. I love eggs.”
Are there other jobs in racing that look interesting or that you could see yourself doing one day?
“I think I’d enjoy TV. Maybe as an analyst. Similar to what Jerry Bailey is doing and what Gary did. I think I would enjoy doing something like that.”
What’s a dream day off for you?
“Not waking up to a phone call, sleeping in and waking up naturally. Just taking my time, having some coffee and not really making any plans.”
What’s a little-known, fun fact about yourself?
“I like rap music. I’ll memorize entire songs so when I go out and we’re dancing I can get into it and rap along (laughing).
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?
“I’d like to have dinner with my dad one more time.”
(Drayden’s father passed away in 2014)
What gets you out of bed that early every day?
“Love of the game definitely but also fear of missing out. I always feel like I’m missing something if I’m away for more than just one day. I don’t like to be away more than that. I don’t want to miss a new horse coming along.
“Also, the feeling of winning a race and breezing really nice horses is very addicting for me.”
Do you have any pets?
“I do, Gucci, is my mini German-Australian Shepard. He just turned two and he’s like a little human. He was just a little fur ball when I got him.”
Gucci? Why that particular name?
“I’m a Gucci guy. I mostly like their shoes and watches. The clothes are still a little out of my price range and size, but I like to mess around with the accessories.
“I wasn’t really into fashion when I was growing up in Kentucky and Arkansas. One, I didn’t have the money. And two, I didn’t know of the brand back then. I got into all of that when I came to California and was around Mike (Smith.)”
That’s a great segway into talking about ‘Money Clip’ – your first winner. Take us through that first ride. (Money Clip broke his maiden at Hollywood Park on Nov. 11, 2013, under Van Dyke).
“Gary Stevens was originally supposed to ride that horse for Tom Proctor. I was living in Tom’s tack room and just hanging around the barn. It had rained so they took it off the turf and moved it to the Polytrack.
“Tom called Gary and said, ‘Why don’t you stay home? I don’t want you comin’ out and having to get wet. I’ll put the bug boy on. The horse needs a race anyway, he’s not ready.’ So that’s how I got my chance to ride, and I won.
“Tom is more of an old school-type trainer, as his father Willard was, and they usually give a horse a few races to mature. He schools them the right way and always looks toward the future. My instructions were to take him back and make one run. I was told, ‘If he finishes well, so be it. If not, we’ll get ‘em next time.’
“He made a run but I didn’t do much. I was green and shocked at what was going on. I just got up in the knick of time.
“I watched the replay the other day and I thought, ‘Man, Drayden, do something! I didn’t do much of anything. I was just thinking come on wire, come on wire.’
“After winning, I definitely got ‘initiated.’ I was caked with eggs, ice water, powder, you name it. Everything you get when you win your first race. But it was a little different for me. I had to hurry up, take a shower and get back to cool the horse out.
“I think I gained other trainers respect by seeing me do that and watching how Proctor brought me along the right way.”
Talk about Proctor and his impact on you.
“He’s definitely kept me grounded and still keeps me grounded. I recently rode for him at Kentucky Downs and did something he told me not to do and he let me know. He told me I did it wrong. I’m very lucky to have him.”
Fast forward to getting on Justify in the mornings. What were your initial thoughts of him?
“Obviously, he’s talented but what really stood out to me was Bob’s reaction when I first worked him. Bob just said, ‘Wow, that’s a serious horse right there.’
“I kept working him and he was just doing things effortlessly. We were just crushing every horse we worked with and I wasn’t moving on him. He was barely even trying.
“I was really looking forward to riding him in the afternoon and breaking his maiden, which I did, and I was very lucky to be involved with him.”
How did it feel getting taken off Justify, even though it was for Mike? Bittersweet?
“It was. But, there’s nothing I can do and that’s just the business. You just have to keep smiling and keep working hard. That’s what I’ve done and I was rewarded with being leading rider at Del Mar this summer.
“I was happy to see Justify win the Triple Crown and I wouldn’t have wanted it for anyone more than Mike, so it was great to be there. I even helped his mom get to the Winner’s Circle. She was having trouble getting there, and security wouldn’t let her in, but we got her in. I didn’t, but I was there to see it, so that was really, really cool.”
Did it fuel your fire? Did you think, ‘I’ll get my shot’?
“Of course. A lot of people have horses continually coming in so Justify won’t be the last Triple Crown horse. He might be actually, I mean whoever really knows, but there are plenty of horses coming in, so hopefully, I can be there to ride them.”
What do you do for fun? Did you have any fun this summer?
“I have fun! I was really busy this summer, though. I think I had two mornings off the entire meet. I was keeping straight so no, I didn’t go out much. I was riding about seven or eight a day and working about six each morning. I’m working serious horses and very expensive horses, so I respect that.
“After the last day, I had a good time and went out with my friends.”
With so many good trainers putting you on good horses and you and your agent, Brad Pegram, known for picking your spots, did you have an inkling that Del Mar would be as successful as it was?
“It’s funny because my agent and Flavien Prat’s agent, Derek Lawson, have a bit of a rivalry and they’ll go back ‘n’ forth. There’s a bit of a rivalry between me and Flavien as well so we were both a little like, ‘We’re coming for you. We’re loaded so be ready!’
“We had a lot of good horses, a lot of 2-year-olds, so I was looking forward to having a good meet.
“Flavien doesn’t always say much but if he does it’s always after a race and he gets on you for a move or something. But, he’s a friend of mine, we play golf together. He’s a fierce competitor. He makes me ride better and I’m sure I help him ride a better race sometimes as well.
“I wish there were other riders who had that same level of competitiveness, it makes you ride better. I like it, I love it.”
How big of an accomplishment was earning the leading riding title by five at Del Mar?
“It was a big accomplishment for sure. I’ve been leading rider at Los Alamitos a couple of times but not all the big riders are there, trying their hardest. To get it at Del Mar, when everyone is trying to win everything they can, is huge for me and my agent. I’ll never forget it.
Has anything changed since winning the title, or the seven races in one day?
“I feel like I’m really starting to do more things now. The types of races I’m winning, the number of races I’m winning. Even Mike and Gary haven’t won seven in a day. Winning the title on top of that meant a lot.
“I’m getting a fan base now. Even at the coffee shop the other day I was recognized, it was cool.
“It makes me stay on track. The better I do, the more opportunities I get and the better I do. I get in a zone. That momentum helps me to do even better.”
Do you find yourself thinking even more about your late father with your recent success?
“The day I won seven races, yes. On the gallop out, I looked up and talked to him for a minute. I was hoping he saw it. I wish he was around to see it now because he was seeing how well I was doing when I started and I still had no clue what I was doing.
“Now that I’m riding at the top of my level I wish he was a part of it, for a lot of reasons. I know he’s still watching and still proud of me, though.”
So many names come to mind that have helped you on your path, is it especially nice to consult with them all for more than just riding advice?
“That fact really helped me after my dad passed away. Without them, I would have been more of a wreck and maybe even now still. Who knows what direction I would have gone in or what could have happened to me?
“Mike and Gary especially were there for me, and they’re still always there for me. I can call them any time. They’re my best friends. I golf with them, hang out with them, work out together. I don’t only see them as my mentors but as my friends. I’m really, really lucky.
“I can go to them for anything. As I got older and grew some hair on my chin, I didn’t know how to shave. I asked Gary what to do and he just said, ‘Come here. I’ll show you.’ He got me a razor and some cream and showed me how. It stuck with me and I think those moments have meant a lot to him, too.”
“I love the history of Santa Anita. I used to watch Seabiscuit three times a week. Santa Anita was like a character since so much was filmed here. I couldn’t believe I was here when I arrived. The mountains…I was struck by it.”
What are you looking forward to most this meet?
“Hopefully keeping my streak going, my ‘hotness.’ Hopefully winning a lot of races and stakes races and I’m really looking forward to riding at Breeders’ Cup.”
Some of Drayden’s mentors and their thoughts on him:
“I was watching him before he got hurt. I was looking for new talent and told his agent that he’s got a lot of potential. I watched him come up under Proctor and loved the fact that he really made Drayden appreciate everything. He learned to love the horse first and that’s so important when you become a horseman. That’s what really caught my eye.
“He’s little, he’s light and horses run for him. He was patient and I saw him getting stronger.
“When he started working horses for me I liked that he didn’t mind wearing a radio. Some guys don’t like that. I really think that Proctor created a great foundation.
“I’ve always told him that you’ll learn from the good horses because they’ll get there with or without you. He’s handled some high-pressure situations. That’s the hardest part. It’s easy to ride a horse that’s 10-1 but when they’re 2-5, everyone’s expecting a win. You become a target and he’s learned to cope with that.
“He listens, he’s learning. He’s a student of the game. I’ll give him pointers. He’ll get off a horse that’s not even mine and I’ll tell him, ‘You could have done this or that,’ and he listens. He’ll take it in. He wants to be the man, the go-to guy and he’s going to get there. He’s got a good head on his shoulders.
“I was really happy to see him be leading rider at Del Mar, I knew it meant a lot to him.
“Mike Smith has been a big help and Drayden really looks up to him. What I really like is that he’s competitive. He’s not going to do something crazy, or impede someone because he wants to win himself, I like that. He loves the horse, he really does, and I can tell. It makes a difference and it’s pretty cool.”
“He’s a great athlete and he’s always been a great athlete. He’s always wanted to learn and he continues to want to learn.
“You’ll see some guys get to a point where they just stop improving but Drayden improves every day. He’s turned into a student of the game. He loves the game and he loves what he’s doing. That’s what you’ve got to be to be successful.
“I’m proud of him. He’s like another son to me. He’s got myself, Mike Smith, Tom Proctor, he’s got a big support group that always stands behind him. The thing I’m most proud of is that he hasn’t let it go to his head. He’s respectful of his elders and he’s kind of a throw back. He’s always confident but he’s not cocky and that’s cool.
“It’s nice to have someone young that listens and wants to learn. There’s so many who you’ll try and help and they don’t want it. They think they know it all and that’s understandable being young. But Drayden, his ears and eyes are always wide open.”
“There are definitely similarities between my two jocks, in addition to differences. Their dedication to staying fit to ride, their work ethic, and their mental approach. Drayden has learned all Mike’s good habits.
“Mike has taught Drayden how to be the ultimate professional and how to be best prepared to ride. He’s learned a lot but he’s also open to learning and he listens. He’s a student of the game, just as Mike is still. Mike is still learning and will talk to riders that are retired about different races so, yeah, Drayden is taking all of that in.
“They make my job very easy. They’re both ultimate professionals so it makes it very easy on me.
“I’ve always noticed Drayden’s talent. I admire Tom for the way he brought him up and the way he taught him. It was awesome to watch.
“He’s a genuinely good kid. In a great way, he hasn’t changed. He’s a very mellow, humble guy.”
“I’ve seen him grow up, been through the growing pains with him. To watch him get over that hump and to see him really focus in on his career and watch him ride right now, it’s great. He’s riding with so much confidence. He’s not a teenager anymore and he knows what he wants. He’s just getting better and better and it’s a lot of fun for me to watch. It makes me proud.
“To be riding extremely well, at the top of the level, and the competition he’s riding against isn’t easy, makes me a very proud older brother.
“I think his work ethic comes from Mr. Tom Proctor. They instilled all of that in him and it’s so important. The work isn’t over until you get to my age and then maybe you can back off a little.
“He does a good job in the morning and teaches them well, gets along with them. And again, a lot of that comes from getting to work for Proctor back at the farm. The rest of it is just learning from riding. I truly believe that you don’t get really good at riding until you’re in your thirties. To see him come along now, just give him another 10 years. It’s incredible.
“I remember I was told that when I was his age and I thought I was riding on top of the world. But it is so true and you learn so much, about how to handle yourself as well. A lot of not only representing yourself but also the sport comes later in life.
“I’m extremely grateful I’m not coming up in this era of everyone seeing everything you do. I think he’s done a pretty good job with it.
“He still has a lot to learn of course but he knows it. He truly understands that. This game can humble you very fast and to just stay even keel.
“The great thing about this sport is that even when things aren’t doing that well, they’ll always come around.”
The post ‘Student Of The Game’: Q & A With Jockey Drayden Van Dyke appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.
Read more: paulickreport.com
The quirky little grocery chain with California roots and German ownership has a lot to teach all of us about choice architecture, efficiency, frugality, collaboration, and team spirit.
Listen and subscribe to our podcast at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or elsewhere. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
* * *
Michael ROBERTO: Let’s play Shark Tank today. You’re the investors.
Shark Tank, if you don’t know, is the TV show where people pitch business ideas to famous investors.
And that is Michael Roberto. He’s a business professor at Bryant University, formerly of the Harvard Business School. There’s one lecture he likes to start by giving his students this fictional Shark Tank pitch.
ROBERTO: “I’d like to open a new kind of grocery store. We’re not going to have any branded items. It’s all going to be private label. We’re going to have no television advertising and no social media whatsoever. We’re never going to have anything on sale. We’re not going to accept coupons. We’ll have no loyalty card. We won’t have a circular that appears in the Sunday newspaper. We’ll have no self-checkout. We won’t have wide aisles or big parking lots. Would you invest in my company?”
And of course you’re supposed to think, “There is no way I’d invest in that company. That sounds like the stupidest company ever.”
ROBERTO: And, of course, you get a lot of consternation.
That’s when Roberto reveals that not only does such a grocery store already exist, but they’re crushing the competition.
ROBERTO: They’re at the top by a wide, wide margin. The sales-per-square-footage estimates are unbelievable. I mean, three and four times better than some of the leading players in the industry.
So it sounds like customers love this place. But you might think a store like this would be brutal to work for. And yet: it’s ranked among the 100 best American companies to work for. So what’s it called?
Sheena IYENGAR: I do love Trader Joe’s.
There is a good chance you’ve never shopped at a Trader Joe’s, maybe never even heard of it. It’s got fewer than 500 stores. The big chains like Kroger and Albertson’s have well over 2,000; Walmart sells groceries in more than 4,000 of its stores. And, as Michael Roberto told us, Trader Joe’s doesn’t advertise — or do a lot of things the typical grocery store does.
ROBERTO: A typical grocery store has a SKU count — SKU stands for stock-keeping units, so it’s the number of different items carried in a store — well, typically a grocery store, or a supermarket, might have 35,000 SKUs, right? A tremendous selection and variety. And you go to Trader Joe’s they only have, say, 3,000 stock-keeping units in the typical Trader Joe’s.
The grocery business is famous for low profit margins, lots of competition — and, lately, an even bigger problem: for the first time in history, American consumers are spending more money in restaurants and bars than in grocery stores. Trader Joe’s seems to be bucking this downward trend. It doesn’t just have customers; it has fans:
Kirk DESERMIA: The first thing I do when I know I’m going somewhere is get on the internet and find where the closest Trader Joe’s is.
It’s never been easy to run a grocery chain. But Trader Joe’s makes it look easy — and, weirdly, fun.
IYENGAR: I don’t walk into Trader Joe’s with a strong to-do list. It’s not a chore. When I walk into Trader Joe’s, it’s a variety-seeking exercise.
So how do they do it? That’s the question we’ll try to answer today — a question made more difficult by the fact that Trader Joe’s is a fairly secretive company.
ROBERTO: I think that some of the secrecy is probably due to who owns them.
So we put on our Freakonomics goggles in an attempt to reverse-engineer the secrets of Trader Joe’s. Which, it turns out, are incredibly Freakonomical: things like choice architecture and decision theory. Things like nudging and an embrace of experimentation. In fact, if Freakonomics were a grocery store, it might be a Trader Joe’s, or at least try to be. It’s like a real-life case study of behavioral economics at work. So, here’s the big question: if Trader Joe’s is really so good, should their philosophy be applied elsewhere? Should Trader Joe’s — I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but … should Trader Joe’s be running America?
* * *
I first got interested in Trader Joe’s about 10 years ago. I’d never been to one of their stores, but I had a general impression: cheap and cheerful; relatively laid-back and sort-of groovy, for a grocery store, apparently a reflection of its surfy California roots; also: not aggressively health-conscious, but leaning in that direction.
And then I read a Wall Street Journal article about a German grocery chain called Aldi that was ramping up its U.S. expansion. Aldi is a super-cheap, super generic grocery store: 95 percent of its products were house brands, and it was beating even Walmart on price. The article said the Aldi chain had two branches back in Germany, separately owned by two wealthy brothers named Albrecht. And that one of those branches also owned Trader Joe’s. I found this fact surprising, only because when I think of German business practices, I don’t think of a groovy, earthy-crunchy, California surfy vibe. But there it was. I also learned that Trader Joe’s stores were much smaller than typical supermarkets, that they had their own way of doing things, and that places without Trader Joe’s often started petitions to bring one to their town. It was the sort of loony devotion usually reserved for sports teams or your favorite band. What kind of grocery store has a following like that?
And then when I learned that Trader Joe’s outsells all other grocery stores per square foot, I really started paying attention. Then: one opened up near my office, here in New York. I started shopping there — and, for the most part, loving it. I realize it’s not for everyone; in fact, part of their strategy is trying not to be for everyone. But I did want to know the secrets to their success. We reached out to the Trader Joe’s headquarters, in Monrovia, Calif., and were politely told to get lost. As we mentioned earlier, the company is known for its secrecy.
ROBERTO: The two brothers who founded Aldi North and Aldi South in Germany have a record of that.
Michael Roberto again.
ROBERTO: That was kind of the family heritage, of really being pretty secretive about their business operations. You couldn’t even find photos of them on the Internet for years. They were very secretive.
It’s a strange combination: a firm that prides itself on user-friendliness while also keeping its distance. Which means that a lot of what’s known about it comes from industry analysts and other secondary sources. But let’s start here: in the very beginning, there really was a Joe behind Trader Joe’s — Joe Coulombe. He opened the first store in 1967, in Pasadena, Calif. He went with a South Seas theme: beachy tchotchkes, Hawaiian shirts, calling employees “captains” and “crew members.”
In 1979, Coulombe sold the chain to one of the secretive Albrecht brothers, Theo. Theo Albrecht was a recluse — perhaps, it was said, because he’d once been kidnapped and held for ransom, for 17 days in Germany. Albrecht died in 2010, but Trader Joe’s remains notoriously press-shy. It’s also a privately held company, so: no earnings calls with investment analysts; no public proclamations of any sort, really, about how it does business. And so: to figure out how it works, we’ll rely on a few people who’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Trader Joe’s. Including: the business-school professor Michael Roberto, whom you’ve already met:
Also, the Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar, whose research specialty is particularly relevant here:
IYENGAR: So I’ve been studying choice — why do we want choice, what are the things that affect how and what we choose, and what are some things we can do to improve our choice-making abilities.
We’ll also talk to a Trader Joe’s super-fan:
Kirk DESERMIA: My name is Kirk DesErmia. I reside in Seward, Alaska.
Seward, by the way, doesn’t have a Trader Joe’s. Nor does the state of Alaska. The closest store from DesErmia’s house is 2,295 miles away by car, in Bellingham, Wash. DesErmia is the guy who we earlier heard say this:
DesERMIA: The first thing I do when I know I’m going somewhere is get on the internet and find where the closest Trader Joe’s is.
And we’ll hear from a spy in the house of Trader Joe’s, a former advertising executive named Mark Gardiner who became obsessed with the chain.
Mark GARDINER: And I just had this thought, “What if I just went and worked there? What would I learn about this company?”
What Gardiner learned about the company is that just about everything Trader Joe’s does, outside of exchanging food for money, is unorthodox for a modern grocery store. There’s a lot to talk about: the products, of course; the economics of their business model; their very home-made, do-it-yourself esthetic, including the hand-painted murals that reflect the neighborhood of every store. But let’s start with one of the first things I noticed when I started shopping there: the employees. Yes, they are friendly, and helpful, and enthusiastic.
ROBERTO: At Trader Joe’s, what they want is employees in the aisles who have sampled the product, who know the product. Who can say, “Have you tried this wine or that cheese?”
But what really caught my eye was the sheer number of employees. There are so many of them! If you go in during a slow time, you can easily be outnumbered by employees, in their TJ’s t-shirts and Hawaiian prints. One reason is that rather than stocking shelves overnight, like most grocery stores, Trader Joe’s stocks them during business hours. Why? As Mark Gardiner learned when he went to work there, the priority is to maximize customer interaction.
GARDINER: So, they would tell us, “You’re going to be looking for customers who seem like they can’t find something that they want or just seem curious about something. You are going to initiate conversations with these people, and we want you to be friendly, we want you to be chatty, we want you to be empathetic. And more than anything else, we want you to do what it takes to make customers feel appreciated and wanted.”
So that explains why there are so many employees in the aisles. But there are also a ton of employees staffing the checkout. On one level, this makes sense: it makes the long checkout line move fast, and the checkout, after all, is where a store takes the customers’ money. Lesson number one in sales: don’t make it hard for people to give you their money!
But Trader Joe’s also has employees directing traffic at the checkout line: one telling you which register to go to, one pulling you out of the big queue and into the final queue; and one or two holding up handmade signs marking the middle of the queue and the beginning. That’s three or four employees to do the job that most stores use zero employees to do, or maybe they use some software.
But Trader Joe’s seems to be aggressively low-tech. No self-checkout aisles. No online ordering and pickup. No customer-loyalty programs — and, apparently, Trader Joe’s gathers no significant data on customers at all. In the modern business world, this is heresy. If you shop at Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, you can be sure the company has an algorithmic target on your back. Trader Joe’s, meanwhile?
GARDINER: It really didn’t matter if it was a little old lady that was looking for one $5 bottle of wine, and if the wine shipment had just come in the back, I would go and look through 100 different cases and see if I could find the one that she wanted, and get her that one bottle of wine. If I spent 15 minutes doing that, and that made that customer really happy, then the managers were happy, and the store was happy.
So this is a riddle. Here’s a company that doesn’t harness big data and doesn’t generally seem to embrace a lot of technology. It employs a lot of real, live people — and pays them above the industry standard: as of 2013, full-time Trader Joe’s “crew members” made about $50,000 a year while “captains” made more than $100,000, also with better-than-average benefits.
But this is also a company that sells its products at very low prices. According to one of those investigations comparing a basket of items at a bunch of different grocery stores — this one was done in 2016 by the MarketWatch website in the San Francisco Bay Area — Trader Joe’s was easily the cheapest compared to Safeway, Target, and Whole Foods. It was 32 percent cheaper than Whole Foods.
So how on earth can Trader Joe’s, as Michael Roberto told us, take in the most revenue per square foot in the industry?
ROBERTO: They’re at the top by a wide, wide margin.
A 2012 analysis estimated that Trader Joe’s sells just over $2,000 of groceries per square foot. Whole Foods? About $1,200. Walmart? $600. How is this happening? We should probably start with the products that Trader Joe’s sells. Here, let me read off some of what they says are their most popular items. Spatchcocked lemon-rosemary chicken and carne asada autentica. Kohlrabi salad blend and cold-pressed matcha green tea lemonade. Sea-salt-and-turbinado sugar-chocolate almonds and gochujang almonds; peanut butter-filled pretzels and five-seed almond bars. From the freezer section: chicken tikka masala and gluten-free cheese pizza with a cauliflower crust.
These are the sort of foods that light up Instagram accounts and Facebook pages; that inspire fanatical devotion even among people who don’t have a Trader Joe’s within 2,300 miles — like Kirk DesErmia, who works as a facilities manager for the National Park Service in Alaska.
DesERMIA: Whenever I leave the state, I usually buy a couple of hundred dollars worth of goods, and I have an extra suitcase or a duffel bag with me in my luggage.
DesErmia and his duffel bag have been all over.
DesERMIA: I’ve been, I know, to some in Portland, Oregon; Reno, Nevada. all over Southern California, there’s a number of them. My wife is from Kentucky, they have one in Louisville now, as well as Indianapolis. I go to D.C. about once a year for work, and love to go to the Trader Joe’s in Georgetown.
What is it about Trader Joe’s foods that creates such a lust? Let’s put aside for a moment the question of how good their food is, especially since taste is subjective, at least to some degree. But there are a few things to say about how Trader Joe’s is at least different from a typical grocery store. First, there is a sense of globe-trotting adventure — the tikka masala, the carne asada, the gochujang almonds. That’s why Sheena Iyengar thinks of shopping there as a variety-seeking exercise.
IYENGAR: “Oh, let’s see what kind of candy bars they have. They usually have cool candy bars. Let’s see what kind of deals they might have on wines or cheeses, or their prepared-foods section is kind of cool. What might they have that could add some more variety to the house?”
They also offer a rather unsubtle blend of healthy, or at least healthy-seeming, and hedonistic. Yes, you can buy kohlrabi salad and cauliflower-crust pizza. But you’ve also got your peanut-butter-filled pretzels and sea-salt-and-turbinado-sugar chocolate almonds. Speaking of which: turbinado sugar — also known as natural brown sugar. But still: sugar. Why add the “turbinado”? I have a few guesses. One: to say you’re just adding “sugar” to your already chocolate-covered almonds doesn’t sound very healthy. But “turbinado sugar”? Hmm … intriguing! Possibly even … sophisticated! Additionally: Trader Joe’s seems to understand what everyone in sales understands, especially real-estate agents: adjectives are inexpensive and often useful, especially when the actual virtues are limited. A “charming” house is often, in fact, a small house.
Trader Joe’s reportedly puts a great deal of effort into scouting, sourcing, and producing food that their customers truly love; but they also pay a lot of attention to package design and descriptive salesmanship. Their marketing director is called “Director of Words & Phrases & Clauses.” They publish an old-fashioned newsprint bulletin, The Fearless Flyer, with in-depth descriptions of new products. When you walk into a Trader Joe’s, there’s a playful vibe, as if to say, “Hey, you’re just buying food; food is delicious, so enjoy yourself.” There’s also an artsy vibe, a writerly vibe — more so, oddly enough, than in a typical bookstore.
These details, as casual as they might seem, would also appear to be strategic. In a 2011 interview with the L.A. Times, Joe Coulombe said when he started Trader Joe’s in the 1960’s, he was inspired by an article he read in Scientific American about the huge spike in Americans attending college. “I felt this newly educated … class of people would want something different,” he recalled, “and that was the genesis of Trader Joe’s.” Why’d he choose Pasadena as the first store location? “Because,” he said, “Pasadena is the epitome of a well-educated town. …Trader Joe’s is for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators” and, um, “journalists,” he said. This suggests that from the very beginning, Trader Joe’s understood cream-skimming — targeting a certain kind of customer and letting the rest slide by.
As for the “underpaid” part of Coulombe’s equation? That would appear to be outdated: an analysis by the research firm AggData found that Trader Joe’s stores today are located in counties with higher household median income than any other grocery chain, including Whole Foods, and about $10,000 higher than the U.S. median income. But — and this seems to be another key component of Trader Joe’s success — they also value frugality. As Michael Roberto found, they usually set up shop in the cheaper parts of the expensive areas.
ROBERTO: Frankly in many cases, they’re in sort of old strip malls, so they’ve saved money on the real estate.
The real-estate firm Zillow found that homes near Trader Joe’s stores “appreciate more quickly than homes in the city as a whole,” concluding that either Trader Joe’s is really good at picking areas that are on the rise or that they are in part causing the rise. So how about a new store in Seward, Alaska? That is Kirk DesErmia’s dream.
DesERMIA: So, I started a Facebook page called “Bring Trader Joe’s to Alaska.”
This was in 2012.
DesERMIA: I thought, “Man, these guys, maybe they just don’t know what they’re missing yet. And if I can create this Facebook page and I can get people around the state to start liking it and sending Trader Joe’s an email to say, “Hey, we would really love to see your store here,” then maybe Trader Joe’s will actually listen to us.
So after one of his out-of-town Trader Joe’s shopping binges …
DesERMIA: When I come home with a suitcase full, I like to throw it on the kitchen table and take a picture of it and put it out there, hopefully to motivate people to send that email to Trader Joe’s and let them know we’re out here.
His Facebook page got some traction: about 1,200 likes.
DesERMIA: I would say most of my friends in Seward are aware that this is something that I would like to see happen.
And, lest you think DesErmia is one of those guys who makes a Facebook page for everything:
DesERMIA: No. Some of my friends might say I’m fairly politically active, but I honestly I can’t think of any other store that I might think to start a page to bring up here.
Seward, Alaska, does have a relatively high median household income. But the population is a problem: fewer than 3,000 people. DesErmia concedes that Anchorage, a few hours away, would be a more sensible site for the first Trader Joe’s in Alaska. And he’d happily make the drive. He just really wants a Trader Joe’s.
DesERMIA: Every time I go to a Trader Joe’s in the lower 48, they always look sideways at me when I’m getting two to three hundred dollars’ worth of goods. But I tell them, “It’s because we live in Alaska and we can’t get you guys to come up here.” Since I started this page in 2012, and they’ve never responded to a single email, it seems a little unlikely. But hopefully, they’re going to listen to this interview and then my percentage will go up.
* * *
Of all the mysteries concerning the success of Trader Joe’s, here’s what strikes me as the most interesting one. Their stores, as we’ve learned, are generally quite small, roughly a third the size of a typical supermarket. Michael Roberto again:
ROBERTO: We’re all acclimated to every other supermarket looks the same. It has 35,000 items. It has 7 million varieties of toothpaste and tomato sauce. Every other player has all those things.
But Trader Joe’s …
ROBERTO: They only have, say, 3,000 stock-keeping units in the typical Trader Joe’s. Or 4,000 at most in one of their larger stores.
Moreover, as we’ve learned, Trader Joe’s prices are relatively low. And yet: they also take in much higher revenues than stores that have more variety and more expensive items. So … how? Remember: Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell a lot of brand-name groceries. Roughly 80 percent of their products are private-label items, also known as store brands.
ROBERTO: What that means is Trader Joe’s has mitigated the power that suppliers might have over them. So while they’re not nearly as big as Kroger’s they can get great purchasing power because they’re condensing all they’re buying in tomato sauce to one vendor for a very limited number of items.
And when you’re selling something that you also manufacture, or at least source directly, you obviously stand to make more money than if you’re buying from a middleman. That said, even store-branded products need to taste good. Judging from the chain’s success, they do. In fact, some Trader Joe’s-branded items may taste identical to brand-name foods. Why?
Because, it appears, they are identical. An investigation by the food website Eater, using Freedom of Information Act requests, found that many Trader Joe’s items are, in fact, manufactured by the same companies that make the brand-name versions of products you can buy in many other grocery stores, usually for significantly more money. For instance: those Trader Joe’s Pita Chips with Sea Salt? They appear to be exactly the same as Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips. Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies, according to the investigation, are, quote “nearly identical in taste, packaging, and ingredients to Tate’s Bake Shop cookies.”
There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s hardly unusual for brand-name manufacturers to run a side business selling to private labels. But most places that sell a lot of house brands are seen as down-market discounters, not up-market superstars, like Trader Joe’s. So why are they different? Some of the credit must go to the clever packaging and the artful product descriptions. But to get to the real secret of Trader Joe’s, what I think might be the single-biggest reason for its success, you have to go back to Sheena Iyengar.
IYENGAR: I have been at the Columbia Business School since 1998 and I started to study choice way back in 1990.
Iyengar’s Ph.D. is in social psychology; as an undergrad, she double-majored in psychology and economics. She was born in Toronto to parents who’d immigrated from India. Her background, she believes, gave her a different perspective on decision-making when she started working in the field.
IYENGAR: And I got very interested in the kinds of questions that we wouldn’t have ordinarily asked “Well, do all cultures see choice in the same way?” We had assumed that it was innate; we had assumed that everybody saw it the same way, that it was somehow universal. And I think because I was an Asian-American, I didn’t see it as that obvious.
She wanted to explore this question with kids from different backgrounds. Her theory was that Asian-American kids and white American kids might think differently about choice. Before comparing the two groups, she wanted to establish a baseline, to confirm that for the white kids, choice indeed had a positive effect. This baseline experiment turned out to be pretty interesting on its own. Here’s how it worked: she brought a bunch of 3-year-olds, one by one, into a room full of toys. Half of them were allowed to choose any toy, and they could switch as they pleased. The other half would be given just one toy with no option to switch.
IYENGAR: I started by looking at white American kids because I had to first show that I’m capable of actually replicating what prior scientists would say.
What prior scientists would say — and had been saying for decades — is that choice is motivating. That having choice, or even the illusion of choice, is associated with increased satisfaction and feeling more control over your life. Therefore: the kids who could choose their toy should be happier for having the options and more likely to play longer. These ideas about choice were prominent not just in psychology; they were baked into the foundation of economic thinking at the time — that more choice is almost always better than less choice. But when Iyengar started her study and brought in the kids who could choose from an entire roomful of toys…
IYENGAR: The white kids would come in and they would look at all these toys and stare outside the window. And then when I would just give them Legos, they were really happy and they were playing and I was like, “Wait, this goes totally against what I’m supposed to find, there’s something wrong here.”
So Iyengar went back and examined some of those earlier studies about choice and decision-making. She realized that when those researchers described giving people “lots of choice,” in reality that meant something like two-to-six options. Not a roomful, like she had tried. So Iyengar ran a different study — this time limiting the number of choices, and now she confirmed what her predecessors had found. But she kept thinking about what happened in that first study, with the roomful of toys.
IYENGAR: Why were they staring out the window? I don’t get it. I gave them really, really cool toys. I gave them all the most modern toys. At the same time, I was going to this upscale grocery store.
The store is called Draeger’s Market; it’s a northern California institution. Iyengar was at Stanford at the time.
IYENGAR: So they had like 250 different kinds of mustards and vinegars and mayonnaises, and 500 different kinds of fruits and vegetables, and 100 different kinds of olive oils and, oh my god, it was amazing. And I would go to all these little tasting sessions and try out like 10 different kinds of vinegar. And I also then thought to myself, Well, how come you never buy any of those things you taste? And I then went to the store manager and I asked him whether his model of offering people all this choice was working. Now, he said it did — and he pointed to the traffic, and this store did have a lot of traffic. But it was still an empirical question. Was it helping or was it not?
So Iyengar designed an experiment, at Draeger’s, to answer the question. She set up a tasting booth for jams. And she alternated the choice set: sometimes the booth would feature six different jams and sometimes 24.
IYENGAR: And we looked at two things. First we looked at in which case did more people stop to sample some jam. And we found that more people stopped when there were 24 on display. So 60 percent stopped when there were 24 on display versus when there were six on display, only 40 percent of the people stopped. And then when people stopped, we gave everybody a coupon giving them $1 off if they bought a jar of jam. And on the back of the coupon was a code that told us if they saw six versus 24. Now what we found was that of the people who stopped when there were 24 on display — only 3 percent of those coupons were redeemed. Whereas of the people who stopped when there were six on display — 30 percent of the coupons were redeemed.
Interesting: a larger choice set generates more interest; the smaller choice set generates more action. Sheena Iyengar’s jam study — very simple, but very powerful — would go on to become one of the most famous studies in decision science, because it illustrates what a lot of us feel when we enter, for instance, a gigantic supermarket.
IYENGAR: What the finding illustrated was that we want more choice presumably because of all the opportunities it provides us. But when it comes down to making a choice, we don’t want that choice to be too hard or too conflict-ridden or too burdensome.
Iyengar followed up her jam study with a look at employee participation in retirement-savings plans.
IYENGAR: And essentially what we found was that the plans that offered their employees more options, you saw real decrease in participation rates. So, if you had a plan that offered people less than five options, the likelihood to participate was roughly around 75 percent. And by the time you got to plans that offered people around 60 options, now participation rates had dropped below 60 percent.
This phenomenon has come to be called “the paradox of choice.” But Iyengar doesn’t think that’s quite right. It’s not that more choice is always worse and that less is always better. She argues that choice is both a limiting and a powerful tool. Every context is different. You can imagine that a huge choice set is particularly welcome in the digital realm, where you can search for exactly what you want with a few keystrokes — assuming, that is what you want. But in the analog world — in the world of a grocery store, for instance — the size of a choice set matters. Not just because of the cost of real estate and transportation and storage and labor to stock the shelves. But because of how we, people, make decisions. Envision a shelf in a typical supermarket:
ROBERTO: It has seven million varieties of toothpaste and tomato sauce.
And a Trader Joe’s shelf?
IYENGAR: It doesn’t overwhelm me. It usually gives me just a few choices per domain.
And having just a few choices per domain is more likely to lead to action. Imagine yourself standing in an aisle in Trader Joe’s when you come across their five-seed almond bars. And your lizard brain says: “Well, there are no four-seed almond bars, or six-seed almond bars — and I don’t even know why I need seeds in my almond bars — but sure, I think I’ll get some of those.” Trader Joe’s understands less-is-more. It understands — to use a word of the moment — curation.
IYENGAR: They don’t overwhelm you with choice, which is why you’re more willing to examine each novel choice.
There is a story, probably not true, about Michelangelo. Someone supposedly asked him how difficult it had been to sculpt his famous David. And he said, “It’s easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.” I’m not saying Trader Joe’s is quite on Michelangelo’s level, but you get the idea: there is great value in clearing away the clutter. Which is one reason Sheena Iyengar personally loves shopping at Trader Joe’s.
IYENGAR: It doesn’t give me the boring stuff, it keeps me excited because I want to see, what do they have? And what do they have that might get me thinking about something I don’t ordinarily think about? So they also maintain the mystery of novelty for me.
Novelty is also a powerful tool in sales, and this too Trader Joe’s understands. It is famous for constantly introducing new products — experimenting with them, really. Which means old products have to go. Maybe they’ll come back, maybe they won’t. This strategy would appear to be risky.
ROBERTO: Normally, in a typical grocery store, if the item that you typically bought isn’t there, you’re really pissed, right? You’re mad. At Trader Joe’s, customers have come to understand that that’s part of the trade-off. You might see your peach mango salsa disappear, but there’ll be something new to try that you can offer at your next cocktail party and wow people with.
Iyengar notes this strategy also gives every trip to Trader Joe’s a sense of a treasure hunt. But that our appetite for novelty is domain-specific.
IYENGAR: I deliberately go into that venue—
“That venue” being Trader Joe’s …
IYENGAR: —because I want to learn about some choices. I’m trying to update my brain on choices. But when I go into my coffee shop in the morning I do not engage in any act of updating. I don’t want to know. I walk into my coffee shop every morning. I don’t even say anything. They just bring me out exactly what they bring me every other day. And it’s made exactly the same and I have no interest in engaging in any kind of variety-seeking.
GARDINER: I discovered Trader Joe’s totally by accident.
Mark Gardiner again, the former advertising executive who wound up working at Trader Joe’s. He was living in California at the time.
GARDINER: I thought it was a local store, it had a kind of a surf theme and I didn’t know any better, because they don’t do any advertising. I only was exposed to it because it happened to be in my neighborhood.
Then Gardiner moved to Kansas City.
GARDINER: Yes, and that’s when I really learned about Trader Joe’s as a company, because there was no Trader Joe’s. But there were these rumors that we’re going to get a Trader Joe’s. And there was so much excitement. There’s a Facebook page called “Bring Trader Joe’s to Kansas City” that has 5,000 friends.
As a former advertising guy, Gardiner was impressed.
GARDINER: I think the number-one thing that struck me about Trader Joe’s is that they almost don’t advertise at all. They don’t market. They have a pretty good website now. But for years they had a rudimentary website. They had almost no social media presence. They had almost no kind of public relations. So they didn’t do a whole bunch of the things that I had spent my entire working life thinking, “Well these are things that you do when you build a brand.” So that was really striking to me. And I just had this thought, What if I went and worked there? What would I learn about this company?
Gardiner learned enough about the company by working there that he wrote a book about it, called Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s. How did Trader Joe’s respond?
GARDINER: Well, as you know, they’re a very, very secretive company. So they responded exactly the way I expected, which was with utter silence.
What initially impressed Gardiner was how Trader Joe’s had grown so much without spending all the money that most firms spend on marketing, advertising, and so on. But what impressed him once he got inside — working as a crew member for $12 an hour — was the company’s culture. Well before the new Kansas City store had opened, on the first or second day of training, a Trader Joe’s executive came in to meet with the roughly 50 new hires, including Gardiner. The proceedings began with that standard, horrifying request to say your name and tell a story about yourself.
GARDINER: And I am not kidding you, 50 hands went up. All these people were like, “Pick me. I want to be the first, I want to start. I want to tell you my story.” And I looked around at that group of hands going up, and mine was up too, because I love talking about myself. But most people don’t, at least not to a group of strangers. And I thought, Wow, this is not an ordinary group of people. And what I realized pretty quickly is, Oh my God, this is what they hire for — they hire for this kind of extroverted, naturally chatty kind of person.
As the training progressed—
GARDINER: These guys really weren’t too worried about teaching me how to operate a grocery store, right? I mean there was some discussion about keeping the cold things cold, and how important that is, and there was a little bit of discussion about, “This is how our cash register works,” about, “When you’re bagging groceries, this is how you do it.” There was some discussion of process. But actually there was a lot of discussion of Trader Joe’s values. There was a tremendous amount of discussion about how are you going to be with the customers.
And then, once the store opened—
GARDINER: No matter how crazy the store was, no matter how much pressure there was to do something else, if you were doing something for a customer, that trumped everything.
Seeing how Trader Joe’s encouraged its employees to interact with customers — to partner up with them — didn’t just make sense to Gardiner. It inspired him to wonder why this theoretically-obvious approach is, in fact, quite rare. Consider, he says, a standard trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
GARDINER: What happens when you go to the D.M.V.? Well, what happens is, you stand on one side of a counter and then there’s your opponent on the other side of the counter. And it’s as if you’re in sort of a game or a sport where you’re trying to get your license plate or a driver’s license and they’re going to say, “Oh yeah, you don’t have an up-to-date inspection certificate for your car. So get out of here.” Right? It’s like a volleyball game, practically. And it’s you against them.
Now what if you change the rules and and what if you said, “You guys are both on the same side. Your goal is to get them that driver’s license or that license plate that they need.” And so instead of just saying, “You don’t have the right inspection,” what if you told them, “Look, this is what’s wrong with the certificate that you’ve got. It’s either out of date or it’s from the wrong state, or whatever. And this is where you would go to get the inspection that you need. Right? And let me look at all your other things while I’ve got you here — and if there’s anything else you need, I’ll tell you what you need so that the next time you come, it’s going to be a slam dunk for you.” What if it wasn’t adversarial? What if you guys were both on the same side?
“What if you guys were both on the same side?” It’s a good question, don’t you think? Look, I’m not saying Mark Gardiner’s example is necessarily fair to the D.M.V. Nor am I saying that Trader Joe’s should win the Nobel Peace Prize. But, it does strike me that a lot of interactions in the modern world are set up to be more competitive than they need be, and that the benefits of collaboration are often undervalued. I think back to an interview we did with Microsoft C.E.O. Satya Nadella, who has been reversing Microsoft’s longstanding policy of treating tech rivals like Google and Apple as pure rivals. And instead, sometimes partnering with them.
NADELLA: [From “It’s Your Problem Now”] Nothing can be taken for granted and there’s no such thing as a perpetual-motion machine. What you have to do is be good at being able to refresh yourself at the crucial times.
So if you had the choice, would you have Trader Joe’s run the Department of Motor Vehicles? And maybe even — I’m not serious here, except, maybe I am? — would you have them run America? Or at least would you try to export some of their collaborative, frugal, don’t-take-yourself-so-seriously methodologies? Michael Roberto, the business-school professor who has analyzed Trader Joe’s, warns it’s not so easy. That it wouldn’t even be easy for another grocery story to replicate the Trader Joe’s experience:
ROBERTO: To do what they do, you can’t just hire the same people they hire. You have to emulate the private-label strategy. The real-estate strategy. The pricing. The quirky culture. And it’s often the soft things. Not just the kind of people you hire, but the way you train them and the culture you create. I mean, we can build a store that looks like a Trader Joe’s. But when we have people walk in, can they have the same experience? Well, that’s very hard to replicate.
Fair enough. And, again, I don’t mean to heap undue praise on a grocery chain just because they’ve found a way to make their appealing food cheap and treat people pretty well along the way. But I will say this: we spend a lot of time on this show, and in modern society at large, pointing out problems and failures and sundry idiocies. It’s nice, once in a while, to come across an institution — even if it’s just a grocery store — that seems to work well, for several constituencies on several dimensions, and to see what can be learned from it. If you have an idea for a future episode about something else that’s working well, and what we can learn from it — let us know, would you? We’re at email@example.com.
And if you’re dying to learn a bit more about how Trader Joe’s works, check out the episode that the podcast Household Name did about two-buck Chuck, the famous cheap wine beloved by Trader Joe’s fans. You can find it wherever you find your podcasts.
* * *
Freakonomics Radio is produced by Stitcher and Dubner Productions. This episode was produced by Alvin Melathe. Our staff also includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, Harry Huggins, and Zack Lapinski. Our theme song is “Mr. Fortune,” by the Hitchhikers; all the other music was composed by Luis Guerra. You can subscribe to Freakonomics Radio on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas in this episode:
Kirk DesErmia, facilities manager in Seward, Alaska.
Mark Gardiner, journalist and author.
Sheena Iyengar, professor of business at Columbia Business School.
Michael Roberto, professor of management at Bryant University.
“Trader Joe’s,” David Ager and Michael Roberto, Harvard Business School Case (April 2014).
“What Brands Are Actually Behind Trader Joe’s Snacks?,” Vince Dixon, Eater (August 2017).
Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s by Mark Gardiner (bikewriter.com 2012).
“When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?,” Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (June 2000).
Unlocking Creativity, by Michael Roberto (Wiley 2019).
The post Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s? (Ep. 359) appeared first on Freakonomics.
Read more: freakonomics.com
On an early Sunday morning in January 2007, 18-year-old Ashley Myers was driving home from Washington, D.C. on Interstate 66 when a tanker truck hauling gasoline struck the car directly behind her, causing it to crash into her Volvo station wagon. In a matter of seconds, all three vehicles were consumed by flames.
What remained of Ashley was, in her mother Wynnie Myers’s words, not much more than a pair of sneakers. Eleven years later, a week before what would have been Ashley’s 30th birthday, Myers got a portion of her daughter’s DNA tattooed on her left shoulder as part of an ornate sunflower-and-butterfly tattoo in memory of her. “It brings me a sense of peace and happiness,” Myers tells Refinery29. “I can touch her. I can feel her. It’s such a different experience to know that I have her DNA on me.”
Wynnie Myers’ shoulder tattoo contains DNA of her late daughter, Ashley.Photo: Courtesy of Wynnie Myers.
With help from a new company called Everence, thousands of people have now injected DNA from their loved ones (including children, parents, spouses, and even pets) into their skin via tattoos. The idea for the company — which, yes, sounds like something straight out of a Black Mirror episode— came to co-founder Patrick Duffy in 2013 when he was running a scuba diving therapy program for military veterans. During one dive in Key Largo, Florida, he met a woman who had a tattoo in honor of her late husband, a Navy SEAL killed in combat, on her leg.
“I saw it and thought, Wouldn’t it be interesting to turn that tattoo into a reliquary for her husband?” Duffy says. “I came out of the water and couldn’t shake the idea.”
For the next four years, Duffy worked with scientists and tattoo artists around the country to try and figure out if this could – and should – be done. “I just kept on asking myself the question, How can you really make a tattoo even more personal than it already is? ” Duffy says. After numerous patents, Duffy landed on a system that turns the DNA of another human being or pet into a powder-like substance (called “Everence”), which can then be mixed into tattoo ink. As freaky as the concept sounds, it was actually closely monitored by Bruce Klitzman, associate professor of surgery at Duke University, and Edith Mathiowitz, professor of medical science and engineering at Brown University.
The process to get such a tattoo begins a little like 23andMe. First, customers order a $350 Everence kit, which instructs them to collect a sample of the DNA they’d want in their tattoo, and can come from a strand of hair, cremated ashes, or a cheek swab. After sending the hair, cremains, or swabs back to Everence in the original box with a pre-paid shipping label, it’s sent to a lab, where the sample undergoes a patented 21-part process in which scientists extract a short strand of DNA, amplify it, purify it, and then micro-encapsulate it in a medical-grade polymer, which protects it from ever being destroyed by the body.
After the powder is individually inspected for quality, it’s sent back to the customer within 45 days. When the Everence arrives in the customer’s mailbox, it looks like a tiny vial of white powder or sand, but if you were to look at the powder in extreme closeup, you’d see microspheres, which are protecting the DNA.
A vial of Everence, which contains human DNA.Photo: Courtesy of Everence.
Customers can then hand that vial over to one of Everence’s approved tattoo artists, who then pours it into the ink, stirs for 10 seconds, and begins buzzing away. The Everence is invisible within the design and, thanks to that micro-encapsulating, the DNA doesn’t disappear into the body, but instead sits permanently on the surface of the skin with the tattoo. The biggest difference between it and any other tattoo? The removal. Duffy says to remove it completely, you’d have to get a biopsy. In other words, it’s very permanent.
Although this entire process sounds eerily futuristic, people have been getting so-called biogenic tattoos, also coined “morbid ink,” for years. But unlike those often underground practices, in which people dumped ashes and hair directly into the ink, Everence has taken the extra precautions to ensure the process is safe.
So why would people feel compelled to get these tattoos with DNA in the first place? “About 98% of people who get the tattoo do so for two reasons, either something involving emotional connection or individual expression,” Duffy says. And just like regular tattoos, the types of people interested in getting Everence tattoos vary. “Our customers are two-time Oscar-winning directors, lawyers in their early ’20s, and grandmothers who have never had a tattoo before,” Duffy says. “It’s been a lot of people who have just beaten cancer, and people who have lost someone, or gotten engaged.”
Boyd Renner and his wife, after getting his Everence tattooCourtesy of Everence
By Duffy’s calculations, about 55% of people who have ordered Everence have never had a tattoo before. Boyd Renner, who’d eventually become one of the co-founders of Everence, was one of those people. After hearing whispers of Duffy’s idea through a mutual friend, Renner reached out to Duffy in the early stages of Everence’s development. “To be honest, it didn’t resonate with me right away,” Renner says. “I had spent 28 years in the Navy and I had never had a tattoo in my entire life. I dismissed it generationally.”
But then his wife, who has cystic fibrosis, got poor results back from a lung test. On the long drive home, he started to change his mind about Patrick’s idea. “It’s then that I decided that I wanted my wife’s DNA in my very first tattoo, not because of the cystic fibrosis, but actually because she’s the one person who inspires and motivates me the most,” Renner says. “She’s the one that I look up to every day.” Renner ended up getting an ornate rose design on his left calf, with the Everence poured into the red ink to create the roses.
For Merriman Mathewson, her Everence tattoo marked the second time she was getting inked. The 46-year-old mother of three, who lives in San Francisco, had been thinking of an excuse to get another tattoo after her first one disappeared under a cesarian scar.
“At first, I thought it was a little bizarre,” Mathewson says. “Like, is this safe?” But after discussing it with Duffy, Mathewson decided to move forward with a tattoo that contained multiple DNA strains: specifically those of her four children. “My kids inspire me, and just to be able to carry all of them with me and walk forward with a part of each one of them in my everyday was inspiring.”
A photo of Merriman Mathewson’s tattoo Photo: Courtesy of Everence.
Much like Myers, Mathewson’s Everence tattoo is highly sentimental. She wasn’t just using DNA from her three living children, who are aged 10 to 15, but also DNA from Perin, her child who died just after birth 13 years ago as a result of toxoplasmosis, which Mathewson contracted from unwashed salad greens.
Using cheek swabs for the DNA samples from her three children, Mathewson had to collect some of the strawberry-blonde locks the nurses cut from Perin’s head at the hospital, and send them away to Everence. “It was some way I could have him with me,” Mathewson says. “It’s not like I have a world of memories with him or a world of mementos that I can keep.”
This January, with the four Everences in her possession, she went to a tattoo artist in Arizona and got an outline of a trumpet on her ribs as an homage to her hometown of New Orleans, with the Everence powder woven throughout the entirety of the black outline.
Though tattoos have long been sentimental for many people who have gotten them in honor of someone they love, swirling in that DNA takes things to another level.
When Myers saw tattoo artist Virginia Elwood of Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn, New York sprinkle her daughter’s Everence into the ink, she was flooded with memories. “It was such a loving experience,” Myers says. “There was no pain. There was laughter. They let me talk about her and asked questions about her and they let me share memories of her.”
For Elwood, tattooing women like Myers has helped ease her own concerns about the process. “The science and safety, I had no doubt they would make a really safe product,” Elwood says. “The reluctance would have come from knowing that tattoos are, in and of themselves, meaningful enough. Do we really need this DNA in there?”
But when you hear stories like Myers’s and Mathewson’s, there’s obviously more emotional value for them knowing that they’re literally carrying a part of their loved one on them at all times. As Myers says, “Even though I hold her close to my heart, Everence has allowed me to hold her even closer.”
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?
Read more: refinery29.com
Inspiration can come from many places. But how you see yourself and your surroundings can turn that inspiration into a strategic advantage.
Gbenga Ogunjimi shows how to develop that advantage with his book, Borderless Voice: The Power of Telling Your Story and Defining Your Identity. It is a very small book that conveys how believing in your dreams connects to your objectives.
Ogunjimi offers a background in social entrepreneurship, using identity strategy and storytelling to empower immigrant and minority leaders.
What Is Borderless Voice About?
Ogunjimi believes that people can rise beyond their background to achieve their goals when they imagine the right narrative. Ogunjimi defines a framework for that narrative, called Borderless Voice. That voice leads to better entrepreneurial options and leadership choices.
Ogunjimi deftly explains how as he teaches what people should look for. When he explains the importance of storytelling, he highlights why it is an asset for a career.
“Storytelling is your strongest asset … Starting with your story is an incredible way to connect with a potential employer, venture capitalist, or potential partners because, while it is unique, it is likely to touch upon meaningful, universal themes. Such moments often resonate with others, helping you to connect.”
This approach encourages entrepreneurs to explore how to sell themselves through sharing their stories.
The book speaks from the perspective of immigrants and minorities seeking a positive self-narrative. This approach is particularly valuable for those who are transitioning from an employment to entrepreneurial environment, all while being a newcomer to a city or country. Peppered with Ogumjimi’s own experiences, the book advocates auditing how one’s self-narrative by identifying one’s psychological borders and self paradigms about the world.
What I Liked about Borderless Voice
I liked that Ogunjimi sought to step beyond a number of coaching books with pragmatic advice. I liked the phrase he used in a later chapter on monetization strategies — serve with your skills. Here’s an example, a call for consultants to produce rather than just take on ad-hoc projects.
“It is my experience in working with skilled and talented professionals that they struggle to distill their vast experience and know-how into products and services that can be monetized. As an excuse for this, they would rather remain pro bono consultants rather than give themselves permission to create and test out their products in the marketplace. This is what I tell them….you will have to trust in the generosity of the marketplace — it will tell you what your are doing that is right and what you can improve upon.”
That perspective makes his advice actionable and can be a good primer for an action plan.
I also liked that Ogunjimi describes his experiences entering the United States, while developing his points so that any stranger in a strange land can adapt to his or her environment.
What could have Worked Better
Some of the chapter brevity can limit the information conveyed. That brevity often shortchanges the reader by not allowing the full expression of an author’s ideas. In Borderless Voice, for example, comments from others are cited as support for Ogunjimi’s points, but these comments lave little room for the author to develop his own argument fully. Take the chapter on changing one’s narrative which was dominated by the personal experiences of just two people (called Jane D. and Mike K.) Here the experiences of more people with different countries of origin would have made Ogunjimi’s point better.
Why Borderless Voice?
This is a brief book, with a structure similar to personal development books like Felicia Shakespeare’s You Are Your Brand, or the excellent Adrienne Graham book on business self-affirmation, No, You Can’t Pick My Brain: It Costs Too Much. But Ogunjimi successfully forges his own path by helping readers find their own voices regardless of background by dissecting their environments and barriers.
This article, “Borderless Voice Turns Personal Narrative into a Competitive Advantage” was first published on Small Business Trends
Read more: feedproxy.google.com
Melania Trump sat down for her first-ever interview in office last night, giving us a rare glimpse into her life as first lady and offering some insight into her trip to the U.S. border over the summer.
Trump told ABC News’ Tom Llamas that she had an immediate reaction when seeing media coverage of families being separated at the U.S. border. Her answer wasn’t unexpected: she had previously released a statement saying that she hated seeing the children forcibly taken from their parents under her husband’s administration, although the move was widely criticized for being too passive and ultimately hollow. The zero-tolerance policy has since been scaled back by executive order, but thousands of children and parents are still recovering from its effects.
In yesterday’s sit-down, Trump says she told her husband that she thought the zero-tolerance policy was “unacceptable,” and says that he agreed with her. She also mentioned how she “reacted with [her] own voice” by traveling to the border on her own volition.
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
It was on that June trip that her jacket — a $35 army-green piece from Zara with the words “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” scrawled on the back — caught the world’s attention. Many people spoke out against Trump for her apparently blasé attitude towards the people risking their lives and families at the southern border.
And yet the first lady remained characteristically silent. A spokesperson from her office dismissed the criticism at the time, telling the press, “It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope this isn’t what the media is going to choose to focus on.”
But Trump put it a little bit differently during yesterday’s interview.
“I wore the jacket to go on the plane and off the plane,” she told ABC. “And it was for the people and for the left-wing media to show them that I don’t care. You will not stop me to do what I feel is right.”
“It was kind of a message,” she added. “I would prefer that they would focus on what I do and my initiatives than what I wear.”
Trump conveyed this same message recently during her tour of Africa, where she came under fire for wearing a pith helmet — a look commonly associated with the European forces that colonized much of the continent in the 19th century. Trump was traveling in Africa to promote her Be Best campaign against bullying, which she told ABC she could relate to on a personal level: “I could say that I’m the most bullied person in the world…One of them, if you really see what people are saying about me.”
Her sit-down with ABC echoed other lines from the rare press conference she held in Africa, especially when it came to the subject of her marriage.
Trump quickly debunked any notion that she has control over the president: “I wish! I give him my honest advice and honest opinions and then he does what he wants to do,” she said.
She also dismissed rumors about their strained relationship, saying, “We are fine…It’s what media speculate, and it’s gossip. It’s not always correct stuff.”
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?
Read more: refinery29.com
Growing economies- and the inspiration of Western style architectural wealth – has led to the development of areas such as these across the world. This example, in Ordos, Mongolia, was built for a prospective population that never quite came.. Image © Raphael Olivier
This article was originally published on CommonEdge as “The Design Media Needs to Examine its Own Privilege.“
Kate Wagner grew up in rural North Carolina. As a kid, her mom, who never went to college, worked in a grocery store deli and later in childcare. Her dad had a steady government job with a pension, and his time in the military meant he had the resources and benefits needed to get a college degree. Wagner describes her economic background as “one foot in the working class and one foot in the middle class, and it was always a negotiation between those two classes.” They were, she says, “just normal-ass American people.”
In high school, her interest in architecture was sparked after taking a career aptitude test which told her she should become an architect, and she became intrigued with Modern architecture by browsing books at the school library. Later, she was shocked that there was no blog devoted to the urtext of late capitalist American excess—the McMansion. She found McMansions to be inherently funny and also fascinating. “I find them very effective vehicles for teaching about design, because there is just so much wrong with them,” she says.
In 2016, she started posting memes mocking McMansions on her blog, McMasnion Hell, wringing mocking derision as well as pathos from each superfluous dormer, bloated cupola, and misshapen window. The blog went viral and Wagner was invited to do TED Talks and riff on architecture in film by New York Magazine. She followed up her blog with incisive critical analysis that situated McMansions as postmodern icons of consumption and commodification, and offered populist reconsiderations of historic preservation as viewed through Internet social media culture, and more. Throughout, Wagner found ways to examine a prosaic element of our built environment (big box stores, ranch houses, McMansions) and place them in a specific cultural and economic context. She did this in a way that tore down the high/low culture dichotomy that exists between extremely online meme-roasting and arcane tomes of architectural criticism. It might be what Bob Venturi would be doing had he been born in the Clinton Administration. In a short time, Wagner has earned a spot as the leading edge of a new generation of design critics.
Wagner’s career path is not replicable. Her most enthusiastic boosters (I am one) would tell you that she’s redefined architectural criticism in a way that’s only possible once a generation. That’s what she had to do to walk through the door. And when she did, she discovered that the people that had already crossed this threshold had backgrounds that were nothing like hers. “The reason I got into design writing was because my blog went viral, and that’s a very different origin story than most people,” she says.
Colleagues that write about design and architecture for a living are far more likely to come from upper-middle class homes or better, often with a familial connection to the architecture and design world, and the elite institutions (educational or otherwise) that serve it. Ask a few questions, and a great many design writers had grandparents that met at Yale or some such place, and were born into contexts where knowledge of this relatively esoteric realm of cultural production was something they were raised alongside. Unsurprisingly, these defining characteristics means the design media corps are also overwhelmingly white.
I can relate to Wagner, though I likely had it easier. I grew up the child of a single mother public school teacher, and my mom was the first and only person in her family to graduate from college. My parents divorced when I was 8, and after their divorce I moved from rural Iowa to a working-class neighborhood in Des Moines, next door to a soybean processing plant, the freeway, and a flood basin. I went to public schools, and most of the kids in my elementary school were on free and reduced lunch. About one-half of my freshman high school class dropped out before graduation, and most didn’t go to college. I attended a large state-run university for college and never went to grad school. The only unpaid internship I ever took was one I saved up for by working.
But outside of Wagner, I have very seldom met another design writer who came from a similarly humble station in life. I’ve been writing about architecture for more than a decade, and Wagner and I are rarities.
And yet, I’m quite sure I grew up with more privilege than most Americans. First, I’m white and male, which speaks for a lot. But also, my existence was modest but very stable, with cash for a few flourishes. My parents encouraged (and could pay for) artistic pursuits, and I got a fantastic public education. My dad is a bonsai tree artist in rural Iowa, which is nowhere close to lucrative, but early on instilled the value of building your life around the refinement of craft and aesthetics. And there are numerous other lucky breaks and (seemingly) ancillary privileges that have allowed me to shape my career in this way.
So if the design media is drawing largely from the socio-economic strata of people above me, then it’s drawing from an absolutely miniscule segment of the population that is in no way representative of the whole. If Wagner came from “normal-ass American people” and doesn’t recognize anyone in her current station, it’s a grim indication that the design media (like many segments of the broader media) isn’t opening its door to median Americans often enough.
This phenomena is common to the arts media, drama media, or any other number of creative sub-fields. (After studying music and getting a degree in acoustics, Wagner says the music world is downright “aristocratic,” and far less inclusive than design.) This is a particularly dangerous dynamic for the architecture and design media, because unlike art or music or dance, architecture and design are functional things required for life. You can ignore a museum exhibition at a museum or an opera, but you can’t ignore the built environment because it’s gifted (or inflicted) on all people at all times. And that means the public needs architectural interpreters (journalists) who can reach beyond cloistered discourse and speak to a broad audience. The best way to do this, it would seem, would be to make sure you’re recruiting from this broad public.
There are no trends in the overall media that don’t also filter down to the design journalism niche, and a common refrain here is that the media would have the resources and time to focus on being more diverse if it was not hemorrhaging money and stumbling between rounds of mass layoffs. As such, the overarching world of journalism is stubbornly un-diverse. According to the Columbia Journalism Review(CJR), an annual ASNE newsroom diversity survey showed that Latino and non-whites made up 12 percent of newspaper editorial staff in 2000, but by 2016 this number had increased only slightly, to 17 percent. (The country is currently 38 percent Latino or non-white.) And asking these questions of the media is rather taboo. When CJR reached out to 15 national news outlets for information on the gender and racial composition of its political press corps during the 2016 election season, only four responded in full. It’s not surprising, then, that a 2014 study from the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that merely 25 percent of African-Americans and 33 percent of Hispanics reported that the news media accurately represented their communities.
Most of the analysis and study here is focused on racial diversity, and that’s no surprise, considering how little class consciousness there is in America, where people nearing desperation’s doorstep and coasting on generations of accumulated wealth both claim to be middle class. But there is this bit from CJR, quoting Meg Fair, who made more money from working at a pizzeria than she did writing for her alt-weekly, Pittsburgh City Paper, that speaks specifically to the media’s blindness to class background: “The more newsrooms are diverse class-wise, the more fruitful and intersectional coverage will be. If you don’t have a single person in your newsroom who comes from a blue-collar background, or knows what it’s like to wipe down tables at the end of night, they’ll never be able to empathize when they’re writing stories about things like workers’ movements, or communities displaced by gentrification. If you don’t have that experience, or at least [a connection] to someone that does, it’s easier to turn a blind eye to the multidimensional struggles people have.” I’ll simply note here that “gentrification” is often understood as an explicitly architectural phenomena.
All these barriers to entry are intensified by the specificity of the design media. In a smaller universe of publications and editors, there are just fewer on-ramps for people outside of its traditional ranks. And the many rounds of media consolidation, in both the overall media and the design media, have concentrated jobs in New York, an exceptionally expensive city out of reach for those with modest resources. The emergence of the Internet as a primary medium for architectural discourse has enabled a louder multiplicity of voices (like Wagner), but these low-barrier-to-entry platforms seldom pay well. Meanwhile, ad revenue scrambled by social media’s lock on our attention lessens the ability of the newspapers still standing to pay for grand, authorial architecture critics, a model that seems likely to go extinct in my lifetime. Given the relatively niche interest the public has in architecture and design (more on this apparent limitation in a bit), design publications can seldom offer compensation levels that young journalists without a financial cushion from their parents need to survive.
To get new design journalists into the fold, they need to develop two distinct sets of skills and knowledge. First, are the fundamentals of writing and reporting. But second, they also have to ground themselves in their professional subfield, to learn their Frank Gehry from their Frank Lloyd Wright, and their pilotis from their pediments. And if you don’t grow up in a design-savvy home where you were introduced to this body of knowledge early on, you have to perform some alchemical feat to gather this information and get established (like Wagner), or luck into one of the dwindling handful of entry level jobs still available, as I did.
The closer I look at my own professional biography, the more I notice how I was different from the norm. But I also can’t overlook advantages I had that make it near impossible for those further down social scale to repeat my path. While Wagner struck gold with “a bolt from the blue,” she says, I worked through institutions.
I was the sort of kid that always did all of the required reading, and genuinely loved writing papers getting good grades on them. My mom put them up on the fridge, and I liked that too, so I just never stopped. I studied journalism in college, which I graduated from with no debt. (This was quite a long time ago.) I wrote about music and film, and got the perfunctory small-town newspaper job in rural Missouri (editorial staff of two) where I did not write about music and film. I moved to Philadelphia for an unpaid alt-weekly internship, and did the normal things one does in this situation, like live in an apartment with no chairs and rely on 50 cent soft pretzels from a foot cart for lunch. When the internship ended, I moved to Washington, DC, to look for arts writing gigs, to crash with my then-girlfriend (now wife) who was working on Capitol Hill after clawing her own way through a longer series of unpaid internships.
Without that connection and the ability to live rent free in a place where they were hiring architecture writers, I never would have found my way into a cub reporter type job at the American Institute of Architects. (There was a staff of five full-time editors and reporters working with me when I started in 2007, and much fewer when I left 7 years later.) The most I knew about architectural journalism was that David Remnick paid someone in the New Yorker to write about it every once in a while, so it might be a thing. I gave it a shot, and I had a salary and a 401(k). I realized pretty quickly I won the lottery, and that my professional milieu was going to be radically different from the working class environs I’d grown up in. This feeling was heightened in 2008, when I had a place to wait out the recession amid small plates and craft beer while the rest of the economy fell apart.
In DC, I met Amanda Kolson Hurley, then an editor at Architect Magazine now an editor at The Atlantic’s CityLab, where I’ve often written for her. And her path and background is more standard for design writers. She grew up in Northern Virginia, attending a private high school, and later getting degrees from St. Andrews in Scotland and the University of Bristol in England. Her dad was a political science professor that studied urban histories and planning. She remembers childhood trips to see Native American ancient mound sites, alongside visits to architectural mainstays like Fallingwater. “Even though my father was not involved in the profession, it was absolutely part of my awareness growing up, and its part of the reason that I ended up doing what I’m doing,” she says.
But even with her international education pedigree, Kolson Hurley finds the intercontinental set of biennale and triennial exhibitions and the revolving door of globe-trotting architecture curators daunting. “There’s this unstated but widely and totally assumed familiarity with cities outside the US, often around the world,” she says. The assumptions is that, for design and architecture writers, “You know, say, different neighborhoods in London. You have been to Paris. You have been to Rome.” (I haven’t, and you can make an argument that a city I’m far more familiar with—Des Moines, Iowa—is in much more dire need of design criticism.)
“I feel like I’m pretty well-traveled, and I had some really good fortune in life,” she says. “If I feel like this, I can’t imagine how it would feel for somebody that was the first in their family to go to college who didn’t have a lot of travel opportunities.”
This current scope and breadth of the design media can be viewed as giving a narrow but loyal audience what they want. But it simultaneously limits its reach, says Kolson Hurley. “What’s deemed as important is decided by a culture that’s pretty narrow,” she says. “The people writing about the topic are so closely intertwined with the people producing the culture that it’s very circular, and the logic is not discernable to the people on the outside. It imposes these narrow priorities on what content gets produced that miss opportunities to connect with a larger audience, as blogs like Wagner’s show.”
Kolson Hurley’s experience across trade media, as a well-traveled freelancer, and the wider audience of The Atlantic also points to a key question: Who is the design media serving? (She’s quick to point out that her gripes with the elite internationalism of the design media were arrived at before her time with The Atlantic’s CityLab.) Within professional journals or any publication that’s primarily serving architects and designers, there needs to be space for intra-disciplinary discourse and experimentation. These sorts of publications are the breeding grounds for new ideas that are critical to keeping creative fields fresh and vital, and puzzling arcana that’s not immediately explicable to the general populace is appropriate. But for a broader group, publications that don’t invite a wide swath of the public in to tell their stories risks creeping irrelevancy.
This lack of economic and racial diversity often manifests itself through design coverage that presents buildings, landscapes, and more as purely aesthetic objects or lifestyle choices. It’s getting better, but when designers do get involved with disadvantaged communities, it’s often presented as technocratic experts handing out goodies to rubes, and we almost always hear more from the technocrats than the rubes. And the sum total of design media produced over the decades is an encyclopedic list of Things that Rich People Care About. That’s why we know scads of information about museums, luxury housing, and skyscrapers, and almost nothing about, say, Reconstruction Era African-American cemeteries, which are an incredibly vulnerable and historic cultural landscape that almost no one has written about.Wagner’s rapid success at critically, accessibly, and often hilariously examining the bog-standard American built environment is the herald of a larger failure. “What I did should not have been disruptive,” she says. “It should not have made the waves it did. The reason it was so effective was because things have been stagnant in the design media for so long.”
And as a card-carrying member of this group, it’s time to accept some responsibility for this myself. I understand the examples above from personal experience. I’m also complicit in handing over advantages that may well crowd out others with less means; namely, I’m the dad of a toddler who sleeps beneath Federico Babina prints hung over her crib; OMA’s Casa da Musica in Porto as a winking pig and the Guggenheim in New York as a smiling snail. It’s a mantle she could pick up, and this time around I’d be fully aware of how the machinery of privilege opens doors for her and shuts them for others.
As to what can be done to mitigate these blind spots in the design media, a broader base for design literacy, perhaps integrated into K-12 education, would help. And there should be more on-ramps to both the design and media world, so that they might meet in the middle. Non-profits like Territory in Chicago, for example, work to empower public school students in low-income neighborhoods to diagnose gaps and deficiencies in their native urban fabric, designing and building place-making installations and pavilions. And there’s Princeton’s Summer Journalism Program, which invites low-income high school students onto campus for an intensive 10-day seminar hosted by professional journalists. Recruiting more outside of traditional design media and raising the economic floor for young design journalists could also make a difference. Paying interns and establishing fellowships for recent grads would open up opportunities for writers that otherwise would have to defy great odds to get their interpretation and critique of the designed world heard.
Lee Bey was the first, last, and only African-American architecture critic. That’s a portrayal he sometimes shies away from because, he says, it’s a “description of institutions’ racism, not my achievement.” From 1996 till 2001, he was the Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic, and has since worked in academia, at cultural institutions, in city government, and at architecture firms. He’s currently assembling a book of his photography of South Side architecture, and remains an indispensable member of the design community in Chicago.
A South Side native that came from a working-class family, whose parents didn’t go to college, it’s hard to think of another design writer that has crossed as many barriers as Bey. His family had no explicit connection to the architecture and design world, though his dad was an amateur architecture buff. Bey remembers his dad taking him to see the Sears Tower while it was under construction.
Bey’s own experiences illustrate how vital it is that the design media let a wide swath of people criticize and interpret the built environment. African-Americans, he says, experience space differently. If you’re black, space is often contested and exclusionary, from Chicago’s deep history quasi-state sanctioned violence aimed at persevering segregation, to the murder of Trayvon Martin, singled out by a vigilante for appearing to be somewhere he just didn’t belong. It’s seldom hard to find an explicit and often violent interest in delineating exactly where black people can be. It’s an intrusion I’ve never faced when, say, I’m touring around a predominantly black neighborhood, gawking at its architecture.
And you can read this racist and classist urge to control and manage architecturally, through the legacy of red lining, through the design and placement of public housing, and via the history of urban renewal. For those on the outside, the built environment is a measure of inequality itself. “Being African-American, you are constantly aware of buildings, space, architecture, all of that,” Bey says. “If you’re black, this is contested. Growing up in the 70s in Chicago, the parks on my side of the city, even though they were Olmsted-designed parks, clearly looked different and were maintained differently than parks on the North Side of the city. My greystones were raggedy. Their greystones were not.”
There aren’t many stories of systemic racism and classism that don’t have built environment components, and can be interpreted through design media. The disastrous history of urban renewal could probably only unfold as it did when the people most affected by it are kept away from the public discourse about it. Bey mentions the history of Englewood Plaza, which ripped out a bustling shopping district deep in the South Side in the late 60s, and replaced it with a half-installed suburban-style pedestrian mall surrounded by a partial ring road and moat of parking lots, which went broke within 20 years. But there are countless examples. Mid-century architects and planners often saw poor and minority communities as in need of paternalistic shepherding at best, or as fungible inconveniences at worst.
And make no mistake, these communities are already having these conversations whether they’re listened to or not. One place they’re happening is Bey’s Facebook page, which hosts the most inclusive and diverse discussion on architecture I’ve ever seen. When he posts photos of Chicago architectural curios or b-sides (like this particularly beautiful block on Chicago far West Side neighborhood of Austin), some people like me might chime in with a bit of professional commentary, but there’ll be a lot more neighbors and friends sharing their memories and recollections of the place in explicitly architectural terms. Bey says this group skews white, though not by much. “Black folk,” he says, “are talkin’ about it.”
After the Obama Foundation seized public parkland designed by Frederick Law Olmsted on the South Side for the Obama Presidential Center, Bey noticed a preponderance of articulate and well-informed design commentary springing up. “If you walk the streets and talk to people, folk are talking about issues of urbanism,” he says. “What is the parkland going to be like? Why does the tower have to be so tall? These are people we could consider laymen, but they’re wrestling with these issues, and I wish their voices could be heard, not just as quotes in a news stories, but as part of the body of things being written about this library.”
No matter how progressive and enlightened the design media’s values are, this issue of authorship can only really be addressed by diversifying its ranks. Anjulie Rao, editor of AIA Chicago’s Chicago Architect, says coverage is becoming more cognizant of putting architecture in a social context. There’s more opportunity to explain how architecture is “impacting people’s ability to thrive in the world,” she says. “But I don’t think they’re being made by the people who have actually been affected by them. We have an opportunity to tell the story of how places affect people, and the more diverse [a group of] people we have telling their own stories, the better.”
Rao says the culture of architecture and design is itself becoming more diverse and inclusive. “There are very clearly people with money who are making decisions. It’s clubby. They exist in this cute world of nice houses. Some of them are elitist, but they’re dying. That group of people is dying off, and it’s giving more power to people who [are] working in the architectural world and may actually be thinking about better ways of doing it.” There’s a rising class of emerging designers and practices in Chicago (several of which are founded by women of color) who display their progressive values unabashedly, and use architecture as a way to both frame discussions around inequity and find solutions to it. Local examples include Paola Aguirre’s Borderless and Chicago Architecture Biennial standout Amanda Williams, though they certainly have many parallels in other cities. By covering them, Rao is hopeful that the design media might absorb some of their values.
We don’t definitively know how un-diverse and un-representative the design media is right now, but we do have the advantage of starting this conversation at a time when some segments of the population are more open to interrogating their own privilege and finding ways to ameliorate the resulting inequalities. We’re a ways away from quantitative numbers on who we are. But I don’t know of any other way to gather this data and start this conversation than by beginning with our own stories. And if we don’t start telling this story and rectifying it, the broader public won’t listen to the next one we tell.
Zach Mortice is a Chicago-based design journalist who focuses on landscape architecture and architecture. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Read more: feedproxy.google.com
An article published in Reader’s Digest1 suggests you are at a greater risk for certain negative health and life outcomes if you are left-handed, including accidents, certain mental and physical problems and even early death.
While it’s obvious left-handers face challenges with respect to using everyday items like keyboards, notebooks, scissors and zippers, which are typically designed to favor right-handed users, does research support the notion left-handedness is actually dangerous to your health?
Factors That Influence Your Choice of Handedness
Handedness — your tendency to be more comfortable and skilled using one hand more than the other for tasks like dressing, throwing a ball or writing — is a complex matter. Although you may think it is determined solely by genetics, handedness is a complex trait influenced by multiple factors, such as chance, environment and genetics.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH),2 the development of handedness begins before birth and is influenced by genes, as well as both your right-left asymmetry and the right and left hemispheres of your brain. They state:3
“It was initially thought a single gene controlled handedness. However, more recent studies suggest multiple genes, perhaps up to 40, contribute to this trait. Each of these genes likely has a weak effect by itself, but together they play a significant role in establishing hand preference.
Studies suggest at least some of these genes help determine the overall right-left asymmetry of the body starting in the earliest stages of development.”
Science Daily highlights asymmetry as an important feature of your brain, noting the left side usually controls speech and language, while the right side controls emotion. They assert, “In left-handers this pattern is often reversed.
There is also evidence that asymmetry of the brain was an important feature during human evolution; the brains of our closest relatives, the apes, are more symmetrical than those of humans — and apes do not show a strong handedness.”4 Authors of a 2013 study published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews comment similarly:5
“Handedness is the single most studied aspect of human brain asymmetries. For long it has been thought to be a monogenic trait that can produce an asymmetrical shift of cerebral mechanisms, thereby producing right-handedness. Nevertheless, a single gene explaining a sufficient amount of phenotypic variance has not been identified.
The results of several recent studies using advanced molecular genetic techniques suggest that a multifactorial model taking into account both multiple genetic and environmental factors, as well as their interactions, might be better suited to explain the complex processes underlying the ontogenesis of handedness.”
Additionally, your prenatal environment and cultural influences are thought to play a role in determining which hand will dominate. In terms of prevalence, the NIH asserts 85 to 90 percent of the population in Western countries are right-handed.6 About 10 percent are left-handed and the remainder thought to be ambidextrous (able to use both hands equally well).
According to Clare Porac, Professor Emerita of psychology at Penn State University, the lowest rates of left-handedness, 4 to 6 percent, are found in Africa, Asia and South America.7
Genes Associated With Handedness
To date, researchers have identified a few of the genes thought to influence handedness. Two notable genes associated with handedness are:
• LRRTM1 (Leucine-rich repeat transmembrane neuronal 1) — This gene has been associated with an increased likelihood of left- or mixed-handed people also having schizophrenia or another neurological disorder.8,9
Authors of a 2001 meta-analysis featured in the British Journal of Psychiatry — involving 19 studies on handedness, 10 dichotic listening studies and 39 studies investigating anatomical asymmetry in schizophrenia — stated:10
“The prevalence of mixed- and left-handedness (‘nonright-handedness’) was significantly higher in patients with schizophrenia as compared to healthy controls, and also as compared to psychiatric controls. Strong evidence is provided for decreased cerebral lateralization in schizophrenia.”
• PCSK6 (proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 6) — This gene has been linked to an increased chance of left-handedness being noted in people with dyslexia. Researchers involved with a 2011 study presented in Human Molecular Genetics commented:11
“These results provide molecular evidence that cerebral asymmetry and dyslexia are linked. Furthermore, PCSK6 is a protease that cleaves the left–right axis determining protein NODAL.
Functional studies of PCSK6 promise insights into mechanisms underlying cerebral lateralization and dyslexia.”
Potential Health Risks Thought to More Often Affect Left-Handers
Although being left-handed is not an exclusive factor in any health risk, there are a number of situations that have been linked to left-handedness. Research suggests left-handed people are at increased risk for:
• Accidents — A 1989 body of research published in the American Journal of Public Health12 focused on self-reported injuries and handedness in a group of nearly 1,900 Canadian college students.
Researchers found more left-handers (51 percent) reported having an injury requiring medical attention during the past two years than right-handers (36 percent). In addition, left-handed people were 85 percent more likely to be injured while driving a vehicle than right-handers.
• Breast cancer — While your diet, lifestyle and any number of environmental factors can influence your chances of developing breast cancer, a 2007 body of research presented in the British Journal of Cancer asserts left-handers are at greater risk than right-handers of being diagnosed with breast cancer, particularly after menopause.13
Based on surveys completed by 1,786 Australian women who were part of a larger multidecade health study, the scientists said, “Left-handedness may be an indicator of intrauterine exposure to estrogens, which may increase the risk of breast cancer.
Left-handers had higher risk of breast cancer than right-handers and the effect was greater for postmenopausal breast cancer.”14
• Earlier death — In a 1991 study featured in The New England Journal of Medicine,15 researchers analyzed death certificates and distributed questionnaires about handedness to the next of kin for 2,000 deceased individuals from two counties in southern California.
Based on 987 usable cases, they noted the mean age of death for right-handers was 75 years, as compared to just 66 years for left-handers. The study authors stated, “These results are consistent with predictions based on implied pathological factors and environmental interactions suggesting left-handers are at greater risk of death.”16
• Psychotic disorders — As mentioned, being left-handed could put you at increased risk for a psychotic illness. A 2013 study17 from Yale University observed the handedness of 107 patients diagnosed with a mood or psychotic disorder at a public outpatient psychiatric clinic in a low-income urban area.
Whereas the prevalence of mood disorders was 11 percent (a figure consistent with rates in the general population), they discovered 40 percent of the schizophrenic patients reported writing with their left hands.
Lead study author Dr. Jadon Webb, a psychiatrist at the Arapahoe Mental Health Center in Littleton, Colorado, and his team said, “Our results show a strikingly higher prevalence of left-handedness among patients presenting with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, compared with patients presenting with mood symptoms.”18
Other Ways Left-Handed People Differ From Those Who Are Right-Handed
Beyond the potential for increased risk of certain health-related outcomes, research suggests left-handed people are also prone to being affected differently than right-handers as it relates to alcohol, money and sleep, among other areas. Scientists suggest lefties:
• Drink alcohol more often — Earlier studies suggesting left-handed people were more prone to alcoholism than their right-handed peers have not stood the test of time.
“There is no evidence that handedness predicts risky drinking,” study lead Kevin Denny, associate professor of economics at University College Dublin in Ireland, told the British Psychological Society.
“Hence, the results do not support the idea that excess drinking may be a consequence either of atypical lateralization of the brain or due to the social stresses that arise from left-handers being a minority group.”19
That said, research highlighted in the British Journal of Health Psychology20 in 2011 involving 27,428 adults age 50 and older from 12 European countries indicated left-handers do, on average, drink more often than right-handers.
• Earn less money — A 2014 study, featured in the Journal of Economic Perspectives,21 suggests the salaries of left-handers were as much as 10 to 12 percent lower than their right-handed colleagues.
Study author and economist Joshua Goodman, Ph.D., associate professor of public policy at Harvard, noted the median income for left-handers in the U.S. was $1,300 a year less than the wages paid to right-handers.
Goodman stated: “A large fraction of this gap can be explained by observed differences in cognitive skills and emotional or behavioral problems. Lefties work in more manually intensive occupations than do righties, further suggesting their primary labor market disadvantage is cognitive rather than physical.”22
• Experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — According to psychologists who showed volunteers an eight-minute clip from an intensely frightening movie, left-handed people were more likely than right-handers to exhibit fear.23
Their fear was notable in the sense they gave researchers more fragmented accounts of what they’d seen, an effect associated with PTSD.
Lead researcher Carolyn Choudhary, a lecturer in the psychology and sociology division at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland, presented the team’s findings at the British Psychology Society’s annual conference in 2011. She told The Telegraph:24
“The prevalence of [PTSD] is almost double in left-handers compared to right-handers. We used a portion of film from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ that we know elicits fear, so we could check the recalled account against the film.
People who were left-handed showed significantly more fragmentation in their memories and more repetition [than right-handers]. It appears these are tied to the way the brain makes memories during fearful experiences.”
• Sleep restlessly — Based on research involving 100 patients affected by periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) — a repetitive cramping or jerking of your legs during sleep — the American College of Chest Physicians suggests left-handers are at greater risk than righties of developing the disorder.25
When the research was presented at their annual conference in 2011, the group noted 94 percent of left-handed patients had PLMD as compared to just 69 percent of right-handers — irrespective of variables such as age, race and sex.
Their findings indicate “left-handed people have significantly higher chances of having bilateral limb movements, indicating the potential for PLMD.”26
• Struggle in school — A 2009 Australian study published in the journal Demography,27 drawing on data collected from parents and teachers regarding 4,942 children ages 4 and 5 years old, suggests left-handed children perform less well academically than their right-handed peers.
The researchers noted the perceived “cognitive disadvantage” facing left-handers was not a result of demographics, socioeconomic status or behavior. About the study, they commented:28
“A broad range of skills were assessed, including vocabulary, reading, writing, copying, social development and gross and fine motor skills. Left- and mixed-handed children performed worse than right-handed children on nearly all of these measures.
Conversely, two measures showed no effect of hand preference: the PPVT [Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test] and expressive language skills. Both measures reflect a child’s vocabulary and ability to express ideas and do not require a written response.
Thus, it would appear that, despite being disadvantaged in most areas of cognitive achievement, left- and mixed-handers have the same ability for verbal expression as right-handers.”
It’s Not All Bad Being Left-Handed
In the event you’ve found this article to be somewhat depressing when it comes to the realities faced by left-handers, below are a few positives associated with being in the minority when it comes to being a lefty. Lefties are said to:29
• Be better at processing information at a fast rate — Research from Australia National University30 involving 100 people performing computer-based tasks showed left-handed people outperformed right-handers in processing large amounts of information at a fast rate.
Left-handers tend to use both sides of the brain more easily and therefore may perform better than right-handers at fast or complex tasks.
• Engage in right-brain activities more readily — Research published in the Journal of Mental and Nervous Disease asserts musicians, painters and writers are significantly more likely to be left-handed.31
The study authors said, “Creative people have been found to … be more likely to report an excess of nonright-handedness compared with controls … more widespread left hand use [was] reported by artists involved in the creative activities traditionally associated with the right [brain] hemisphere.” 32 Two areas mentioned were music and painting.
• More easily become ambidextrous — Given the reality most products and surroundings are geared to right-handed people, lefties are naturally challenged at a young age to use both hands, especially when it comes to putting on certain clothing with buttons and zippers, using notebooks, typing on keyboards and manipulating scissors.
• Stand out in a crowd — Given the tendency for their left-handedness to be easily noticeable, especially when eating, lefties often stand out in social situations. Because it’s common to exchange a handshake upon meeting someone for the first time, left-handedness can become a conversation starter.
Some Famous Lefties
Before ending, I can’t leave without mentioning that history is full of famous lefties whose names you will recognize right away, including eight U.S. presidents and many entertainers and entrepreneurs. Just a few of those famous lefties on a long list compiled by Time magazine include Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Babe Ruth, Albert Einstein, Jimi Hendrix and Henry Ford.33
Read more: articles.mercola.com
Employers in the UK have a hidden gap in their workforce. A gap that is rarely spoken about, probably because it’s invisible to the naked eye and because it may be perceived as too big to deal with.
The gap is neurodiversity.
What do I mean by neurodiversity? Neurodiversity represents the differences in some individuals that have their brain wired slightly differently. We all have differences of course, but people that are neurodiverse cope with conditions like Autism, Dyslexia, ADD and ADHD every day.
I use the word cope, as the traditional workplace environment and attitudes are set up with the ‘neurotypical’ in mind. Open plan offices, endless meetings, bright LED lighting, task and context switching to keep up with multiple responsibilities – these are all examples of challenges that would only need minor adjustments to enable neurodiverse colleagues to manage and thrive, rather than cope.
auticon is an IT consultancy, exclusively hiring autistic adults. Our overarching goal is the social impact we can have by employing qualified, highly intelligent and multi-skilled adults on the autism spectrum and integrating them into client teams as tech consultants.
In the UK, only 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time employment. And of those that have previously had a full-time job, 43 per cent have either left or lost their job because of their autism. Quite often, they are subjected to a ‘job’ that gets them by, rather than having a chance at a career they deserve.
The first blockade to employment for adults on the spectrum is the interview process, so we got rid of it.
At auticon, we hire autistic adults based on their cognitive skills, not their ability to hold a conversation about what they do practically, in an overwhelming and intimidating interview process. We test the skills ourselves with a series of practical tests along with a three-day workshop. Our job offer is based on merits, rather than the ability to talk about merits.
This is when their career in technology with an employer supporting full-disclosure of their neurodiversity begins. Disclosure in itself is a barrier for a lot of adults on the spectrum, as they hide it from employers in fear they will be discriminated against. In a lot of instances, they are or have been.
Feeling that you are included, valued and have a purpose in the workplace is important to most people’s life satisfaction. After all, we spend a lot of time at our desk. But for people with autism, an employer can find it difficult to provide this just for lack of education about their condition. As a result, some adults on the spectrum have had difficult experiences in the workplace, which in turn has impacted on their mental health.
We change that at auticon.
Our candidates become IT consultants employed by auticon, fully coached and supported, before being matched with a company that requires their cognitive and technical skill set to work within their team.
The ability to spot patterns, having a different approach to solving problems, sustained concentration, strong logic and the desire to be an expert in their field, are just some of the qualities that sets our consultants apart.
As soon as we start working with clients – who include well-known companies like Virgin, KPMG, GSK, as well as start-ups and SMEs – the education and support process begins to raise awareness and acceptance towards our neurodiverse colleagues.
We ensure the teams working with our consultants receive training about autism in general and any specific needs their new colleague may have. A one size fits all approach doesn’t apply here. Everyone is individual, and any adjustments we facilitate are always person-centric. We then offer ongoing support and advice to our consultants and clients. Consultants receive regular coaching sessions and clients receive ad hoc support whenever they need it.
It’s our goal to create sustainable careers for as many autistic people as possible. In 2018, we opened offices in the US, Switzerland, Italy and Canada. The UK office doubled the number of consultants we hired compared to the previous year. In 2019, the UK office will expand from its firm presence in Greater London and open its first office in Scotland so that we can offer more career opportunities to people living in the North.
auticon allows UK corporations to tap into the incredible neurodiverse talent pool. We create rewarding careers for skilled autistic people and change our clients’ perceptions by delivering excellence.
This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.
Read more: virgin.com
Rita Ora performed “Let You Love Me” at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and there was anything but love from some viewers.
Read more: cnn.com