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A single room with a single book

3 Apr

“A book is a physical object with special attraction that has been, is, and always will be the same.”

Koshiyuki Morioka, quoted by odditycentral.com

IMG_0875

There’s a bookshop in Japan that only sells one book. Or more precisely, multiple copies of one book, with a different title chosen each week. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, it’s brilliant. So on a recent trip to Tokyo I took the time to seek out Morioka Shoten, a single room with a single book, quietly inhabiting a ground floor room of the Suzuki Building on a Ginza backstreet.

Simplicity can get complicated

If you’ve ever worked on any aspect of product development, or if you’ve ever tried to explain the ‘rules’ for the use of articles in the English language, then you’ll know just how difficult it is to keep something simple. A clear vision, sharp focus and zero compromise is essential if you are going to keep your idea on track. It’s perhaps no surprise then that Morioka Shoten was born from the vision of one man, Koshiyuki Morioka.

A little help from your friends

However, Mr Morioka didn’t go it alone with this venture. On a single sheet of paper he outlined his vision at an event where Masamichi Toyama was speaking. Mr Toyama is the President and CEO of Smiles, which ‘turns the whimsical into real business’, and whose corporate philosophy translates as follows:

“We seek to find new value in things that in our hectic day-to-day lives, are taken for granted and ultimately overlooked. To polish this carefully, to bring this value to even one more person – that’s the kind of thought behind our corporate philosophy.”

Mr Toyama decided to invest, and the ‘single room with a single book’ was brought in to being with help from Tokyo and London-based design engineers, Takram.

Multiple layers of simplicity

Takram helped to develop the brand and are responsible for the logo, a simple rhombic shape representing both an open book and a single, small room. This really is minimalism at its finest. Even the date on which the bookshop was first opened, the 5th of May 2015 (or 5.5.15) suggests a desire for every aspect of this venture to be ‘just so’. The whole concept embodies the idea of ‘slow reading’ and what is beautifully described by Takram as ‘blissed conversation between readers and authors’.

The book is the star

Whilst it’s easy to get carried away with the design aspects of Morioka Shoten, it’s immediately evident as you walk into the room that it’s the book that sits centre stage. The concrete floor and plain white walls mean that the focus of your attention is on the narrow table in the middle of the room, showcasing the chosen title. This is complemented by a small selection of related artwork and a beautiful cabinet of drawers acting as a desk and counter. But perhaps most importantly of all, the author is there too. Because rather than just a place where you can buy a book, this is where books develop into conversations, into art and and into new ideas. Events are held most evenings and the author is encouraged to spend as much time in the bookshop as possible during the week that their book is showcased. On my short visit I met not only Mr Morioka and the author and artist, Atsumi, but also the Editor of a Tokyo-based fashion magazine and the designer of the lampshade that hangs at one end of the room. Oh, and his adorable baby. This is a place for people to meet, for the beauty of printed books to be appreciated, for art to be enjoyed, and for ideas to be nurtured.

We need more of this.

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Watch out, it’s the Grammar Police!

6 Aug

I shared this in a few different places recently:

To me, at first glance, it seemed harmless. The world’s cutest grammar police politely pointing out celebrities’ grammar mistakes on Twitter and improving their own knowledge of English in their process. Yes, there may be an element of poking fun, but I can’t imagine Daniel Radcliffe crying himself to sleep because Gabriel from Brazil spotted he’d made an error with his tenses:

Gabriel

The only thing that irritated me slightly was that the promo video had clearly been put together by a school that knew a thing or two about self-promotion. But hey, it’s a cut-throat world out there for language schools, so who can blame them for a bit savvy marketing? They’ve actually done such a good job that the story’s been picked up by the media as far afield as Australia, and I’m sure it hasn’t done any harm to student numbers at Red Balloon schools in Brazil.

With media attention, however, comes the inevitable backlash. There are, as far as I can see, two key reasons why these pint-sized grammar police, or more precisely, the teachers encouraging them, have upset a number of people. These criticims have appeared in a number of places, including a LinkedIn group where I posted the above YouTube video:

1. You make a grammatical error on Twitter. Who cares? There are times when grammar matters, and there are times when it doesn’t. With its immediacy and 140-character limit, Twitter is clearly a place where grammar rules and careful spelling are likely to take a back seat. So it’s wrong to nurture grammar cops who insist that grammar must always adhere to prescribed ‘standards’.

2. Teaching children that unsolicited criticism is acceptable is not a great life lesson. Or in other words, no one likes a smart arse. As a six year old, pointing out an adult’s poor grasp of grammar could, maybe, in the right place and at the right time, be quite funny. But is a public forum like Twitter the right place? Continue dishing out opinions in that way as an adult and you’ll find yourself very short on friends.

So are these fair criticisms? They certainly made me think again about whether or not the video I’d shared was really a bit of harmless fun. And I’m no fan of prescriptivism when it comes to grammar, so my feeling is that there well may be a case for questioning what these young students are being taught indirectly.

There are of course always those who will argue that Twitter (and digital communication in general) is responsible for declining standards in written English, and that this is bad. However, quite apart from the ‘language evolves’ counter-argument, I think most people are perfectly comfortable moving from one form of written communication to another. To form the opinion that a person firing off a Tweet and not worrying about spelling and apostrophes can’t in a different setting write a professional, grammatically correct email is to assume most people are stupid. And that’s a pretty sad view of the world.

However, to suggest that the teachers at Red Balloon have this same world view  is reading far too much into what I’m sure they just saw as a fun way of engaging young kids in English grammar. It would therefore be grossly unfair to write them off as hardcore, blinkered prescriptivists.

On top of this, in the same way that I believe the majority of adults can move comfortably between formal and more ‘relaxed’ attitudes to written grammar, I have faith in the intelligence and common sense of (most) kids.  This reassures me that the the grammar cops from Brazil understand the difference between classroom activities and real life, and that they will not strut around Rio de Janeiro spouting unsolicited criticism at those who cross their paths. In fact, for their sake, I very much hope they don’t. On the contrary, I strongly suspect that their controversial, temporary status as the Twitter grammar police will have no adverse effects on them and they will all grow up to be balanced, polite and well-mannered individuals (more than likely with an excellent grasp of English grammar).

Let’s make Lists

6 Jan

checklist

I love lists. Both at work and in my day-to-day life, writing ‘to do’ lists means that I get things done. Without lists I’d flap around this world like a moth in a room full of lightbulbs. I would go as far as to say that lists changed my life. There are three main reasons for this (listed below):

1. Nothing is forgotten. Lists help me to get things done simply by reminding me of what needs doing and when.

2. Prioritisation. Urgent tasks are dealt with when they need to be, and non-urgent tasks can always be juggled or moved to a later date.

3. Focus. Perhaps most importantly, lists help me to think clearly, to focus on the job at hand. They take tasks out of my head and to a place that I know I can refer to at any time, meaning that I only ever need to concern myself with the present.

I used to write lists on scraps of paper and post-it notes, but the funny little Astrid character below – looks like a thumb torn off by a piece of agricultural machinery but I think he’s supposed to be an octopus – has changed all that. With this free app, all my personal lists are now stored on my Android phone, complete with dates and reminders.

astrid2

At work I have Lotus Notes and another set of lists in the Task Manager, which also sit in my Lotus Calendar. And to top it off, because I couldn’t live without lovely stationery, I usually carry a notebook and pencil, not just for list making but also for noting down books I come across, recommended films and new music, plus useful quotes, articles, websites – essentially anything that I would previously have stored in my head and then forgotten about within 24 hours.

None of this, I’m sure, will come as news to any other list advocates out there. Lists rock.

Taking it up a notch is the checklist. I’ve never felt the need for checklists in my personal life. For me, it’s sufficient to have a ‘go shopping’ reminder, there’s no need to then break it down into ‘write a shopping list, check supermarket opening times, pick up wallet, pick up car keys,  prepare topic for till-based small talk, etc’. However, checklists at work are another matter. Marketing, like many other professions, often involves following set procedures. This is not to say that flexibility, agility and creative thinking aren’t important – they very much are – but there are basics in the lifetime of a project that must always be covered, and checklists help to ensure nothing gets missed. They’re not just for new staff either. Experience can lead to over-confidence and things getting overlooked. People working in teams can easily skip tasks by making assumptions about what others are doing. Checklists – if implemented and followed correctly – ensure that everything is covered.

I didn’t realise the true value of checklists until a friend gave me a book in a pub. It was handed over with words something along the lines of “I’m halfway through this and I’m done. It’s boring and repetitive. You’ll probably like it.” I read it and loved it. It was Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Checklist-Manifesto-Things-Right/dp/1846683149/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357419031&sr=8-1

To be fair to my friend, the book could safely have been reduced to half the number of pages and still got its point across. However, Gawande deals primarily with the value of checklists in the medical profession, breaking complex procedures into simple steps, and if convincing surgeons that checklists save lives means hammering the point home somewhat repetitively, then who am I (or my dismissive friend) to object? The book also brings in examples from the aviation and construction industries, and whilst marketing of ELT materials doesn’t get a mention, I’ve no doubt Gawande could rattle out a chapter or two on that if called upon to do so. Gawande found that even when presented with the evidence of improved performance, people are often resistant to implementing checklists in the workplace because they’re considered time-consuming, patronising and/or impractical. So, it’s all about careful implementation and adaptation, trial and error, monitoring and improving. A bottom up rather than top down approach. And it’s worth it. Checklists save lives.

As a marketer, I’m rarely called upon to save lives, but that hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for lists and checklists, and the value they can bring. If you’re not a list lover already, I recommend you grab a pen and paper, your phone, your tablet or whatever takes your fancy and start writing lists. I hope you’ll be converted and find a new level of productivity. Or at the very least, learn to savour the joy of ticking off completed tasks and feeling that you’ve achieved something each and every day.

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