Will China democratise?

There are three key arguments against democratisation in China

  1. The Chinese middle class is too small and will unlikely grow. Democratisation happens when a middle class grows large enough to demand political reform this has been the case for other democratic regions in the country like Japan. But Japan is small in comparison to china and was able to build up in percentage terms a larger middle class than can a very large and populous country.
  2. China has never been a democracy. Many Chinese people and political commentators have argued that democracy is fundamentally opposed to Chinese culture
  3. China is unequal and countries with high inequality are less likely to democratise.

The fact that China has thousands never been democratic is completely irreverent. All countries had thousands of years of non-democratic political systems before becoming democratic. If we look at the Inglehart values map you can see the 4 nearest countries to China (South Korea, Lithuania, Estonia and Taiwan) are all democracies. undefined

And whist it’s true that the middle class are still a minority in China, it is not true that things will stay that way for a very long time. China will be mostly middle class by 2050. A big issue in China today is the fact that blue collar wages are rising faster than white collar wages. University graduates often complain that factory and construction workers earn more than they do.

East Asian countries are increasingly democratic which points strongly towards democratic china. Those East Asian democracies also had thousands of years of non-democracy before first becoming democratic and are culturally similar to China. Countries tend to democratise when they pass 15k USD in Purchasing Power Parity but East Asian countries Taiwan and Japan democratised at 12k and 14k respectively. China currently has a Purchasing power parity of 7.5k but is expected to reach 15k USD in 3-5 years indicating that China could democratise as soon as 2022.

But it might not be inequality that is preventing China from democratising as China has less inequality (in terms of Gini Coefficient) than South Africa but South Africa is much more democratic than China (According to the Democracy index) so this indicates that China is equal enough already to democratise. Some argue that China’s large rural population is preventing economic development and therefore democratisation.

The wealth divide is very pronounced along rural urban lines, with Chinese urban dwellers earning significantly more and Chinese people who live in rural areas. In general affluent Chinese trust the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) more than they trust democracy because they fear that democracy will empower the rural working classes at their expense. However china is beginning to urbanise and as it does its population will become increasing educated and middle class which is a key driver of democratisation.

The Chinese government predicts the urbanisation rate to increase another 10% by 2020 and in 2014 the state implemented the National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020) in March to tackle various problems derived from China’s fast urbanisation. Previous to this urbanisation had been stunted by the the Hukou system that prevented rural residents gaining access to urban facilities. The Hukou system is being reformed and China has acknolwged that urbanisation is inevitable. It’s likely that now urbanisation is in the process when urbanisation rate reaches a similar level to that of Taiwan or Korea and other countries it is similar to it will democratise.

China has an urban population of 59% compared to Taiwan’s 78%, South Korea’s 81% and Japan’s 91% which gives credit to the argument that urbanisation will lead to democratisation. Perhaps its not suprising that North Korea’s urbanisation rate is much lower than it’s southern counterpart at 61%.

In summary it’s likely China will begin its process towards democratisation as it begins to urbanise.

The rise of ethical consumption

Today, when corporations can be more influential than entire countries, where we put our pounds is where the power lies. In some ways every time we spend our cash we are making an active choice about the world we want to live in.

The problem is global supply chains are increasingly complex with many countries and companies being involved in the production of one product, so it is difficult to confidently make an informed choice.

Retail manufacturing industry is second only to oil in how much it pollutes. According to Annie Leonard, an expert in overconsumption, only 1% of the materials used to produce our consumer goods are still in use six months after sale. Whilst globalisation has increased affordability of consumer goods it has made consumption unsustainable and plagued with ethical dilemmas. Moreover consumption does not actually seem to make us happy anyway. Consumerist society is based on the exploitation of people in poor countries making goods that bring next to no utility for people in rich countries whilst making them sad and destroying the planet in the process. When you say it out loud it sounds insane!

However, times are changing. Increasing awareness around these issues has led to a rise in what is known as conscious consumption, a movement of people questioning the role that consumerism has played in their lives, the lives of others and the planet we live on.

A third of UK consumers claim to be very concerned about issues regarding the origin of products. A study from YouGov and the Global Poverty Project revealed that 74% of respondents would pay an extra 5% for their clothes if there was a guarantee workers were being fairly paid in safe conditions. That 5% doesn’t sound like a lot, but consider the fact that the fashion industry lifts a staggering 125 million people out of poverty by adding 1% of its profits to workers’ wages.

“Greenwashing” and corporate social responsibility marketing campaigns are no longer enough. In an increasingly transparent world, businesses must keep up with growing demands for ethical business practices and sustainable supply chain management. In the age of the consumer, it’s ethical consumption that will change our world.

If you ae interseted in ethical consumption then you’ll love ethical investment. Ethical start up companies like Rubies and Naturelly raising money on Seedrs.com and if you invest £150 within 30 days using this link you will get £25 in investment credit

Going Dutch for happiness

I had good hard think recently after debate about happiness I had with my mate Adam. Long after the debate I realised I was putting my argument the wrong way. My argument was based on the data that shows money has a weak correlation with happiness and after a certain point, it has pretty much no correlation. It’s not that pursuing more money is bad its that it shouldn’t come at the expense at things that are proven to make you more happy.

That argument still stands but I think I’ll try a different approach to convince you Adam.

You want a good job to provide for your future family so…

Welcome to my case for happy families.

Exhibit A: The happiest kids in existence

The first video demonstrates that Dutch kids are the happiest in the world, the video if you haven’t already watched it demonstrates a few key differences between the upbringing Dutch kids have verses the classic Anglo American one

  • Moderate amounts of chocolate for breakfast
  • Biking everywhere! All weathers, all places
  • Not  pushed at school too early
  • Children are more motivated when they make choices about what to do
  • On average they work a 29 hour week
  • They have one day a week where the kids spend time with their parents
  • Give children independence
  • Lots of family time!


This article focuses more on how the traditional extended family plays a big role

  • The fact that Dutch parents are happy and not overworked translates well into happy kids
  • 68% of Dutch mums work around 25 hours a week
  • Dutch  dads play a bigger role because many also work part time. 1/3 Dutch men work part time to spend more time with their kids
  • Dutch grandmothers play a bigger role in bringing up kids than in the UK

The article also mentions the lack of pressure at school and the the fact Dutch kids eat Chocolate for breakfast BUT again it’s the fact that they eat breakfast with their families leading to more family time!

EXHIBIT C: Kids with stay at homes mum’s the happiest

So again. Another study stressing importance of family time over work. In fact a study cited in the article shows that women are happier as a homemaker than any other profession.

Another important thing to consider by staying at home to look after the kids, families save money because they don’t have to pay for childcare which adds up. So if you are looking it from a financial perspective “ a dollar saved is a dollar earned”

Ok so you know the importance of family over money for raising happy kids. Now what?

Money. Still. Matters! But with a good knowledge of how to achieve maximum happiness through minimal expenditure I hope you will realise that even this is relatively cheap which brings me to…

EXHIBIT D The purchases that are most likely to bring happiness

  1. Financial security – the most important way to increase happiness is to decrease stress and by saving money and giving yourself a sizable emergency fund you can decrease your financial stress
  2. Experiences – the study by Professor of Psychology Dan Gilbert shows it’s not the type of experience that people are engaged in but the fact that they are engaged in it because mind wandering is not just a symptom of but actually a cause of happiness. Therefore spending lots of weekends away on cheap getaways is more effective at making your wife and kids happy
  3. Charity – a study in Canada by social researcher Michael Norton conducted an experiment where they gave money to two groups of people. They told the first group to buy things for others and the other to buy things for themselves. The group that gave things to others way much happier. The same result happened when they repeated the study in Uganda.

The article ends with warnings of how not to spend money

  1. Don’t buy things that you think will make you happy, because it won’t work. It’s more important to manage expectations and your own mental wellbeing7
  2. Don’t buy things to impress other people
  3. Avoid lifestyle inflation, in other words avoid spending more as you earn more

How disruptive technologies will revolutionise our economy: 3D printing

Whether it will merely enhance the manufacturing process or revolutionise it entirely no one in business should ignore 3D printing.  There has been some headlines recently in the news which are interesting but the disruptive nature of 3D printing is yet to make it’s significant impact on global supply chains as it is not yet extensively used in manufacturing.

Here are the 6 main ways 3D printing will change the future of business

Mass customisation

3D printing will allow businesses to involve clients in the design of products.  It will essentially bring about customer co-creation, blurring the lines between design, manufacturing, and distribution.

Customer involvement in the design process will create “prosumers”: individuals who are actively involved in the creation of a product while at the same being its main consumers.

Resource efficiency

3D printing uses resources more efficiently compared to modern manufacturing methods as it produces less waste during manufacturing compared with conventional machines. Because governments will look to reduce waste to prevent environmental crises, 3D printing could be an essential investment for businesses to stay compliant with increasing strict environmental regulations.

3D printing will take production closer to the market as customisation can take place after products are sold, which reduces the need for transport and the carbon footprint of the supply chain.

Decentralisation of manufacturing

Because 3D printing requires less space so it will allow manufacturing to be decentralised and can be closer to consumers. This means for businesses and consumers less shipping and delivery costs.

Because manufacturing can be localised 3D printing will lead to the rise of distributed manufacturing whereby a network of geographically dispersed sites are involved in production whilst being coordinated with IT systems. There will be a demand for people with the logistics and IT skills necessary to manage these networks.

Complexity reduction

3D printing is a powerful way to reduce complexity in the supply chain by replacing previously assembled parts with a single component; the manufacturing process can be simplified significantly. For businesses and consumers this means savings because internal cost and time through reduced supply chain complexity.

Instead of multiple steps required during the production phase 3D printing allows the same result with just one single task making the flow of the material easier to see and control.

Rationalisation of Inventory and Logistics

3D printing allows the movement of physical goods across the globe to be substituted by sending electronic files to printers.

Physical storage of products could be replaced by digital inventory where 3D model files of products would be used instead. This means actually storing and transporting products would be less essential to supply chains.

3D printing will have an impact on inventory in manufacturing. Instead of semi-finished parts and components raw materials which are cheaper and safer can be used. As raw materials require lesser skilled workers than the handling of semi-finished goods and final products, businesses would have lower labour costs.

Product Design and Prototypes

3D printing technology is so adaptable, meaning it can produce a vast range of different products cheaper, easier, and quicker than modern methods.

As product designers are no longer tied to concept of “design for manufacturing” products can be redesigned almost entirely with a focus on aspects such as enhanced functionality and material savings without compromising any of the attributes.

Legal and Security Concerns

Legal concerns have been and will continue to be an important topic of discussion in relation to 3D printing. Some researchers argue that 3D printing allows the printing of harmful objects such as guns to be made easier for criminals.

As the current legislation does not consider the copying of physical objects, it is unprepared to define clear rules for the use of 3D printers. For example, who is held responsible for the printing of knives and guns? And who is to blame if 3D printed product breaks: the designer, the printing machine manufacturer, the material supplier, or the company printing and selling the product?

As this technology, open source modelling software and sharing platforms for 3D files become more commonplace the risk for legal misuse of 3D Printers increases, posing a challenge for law makers.

Is the Dollar going to collapse? What will happen and how can you protect yourself?

For the dollar to collapse there must be an underlying weakness. From 2002  to 2018, the dollar has declined 6 percent according to the U.S. Dollar Index because the U.S. debt almost more than tripled during that period to a whopping $22 trillion. The debt-to-GDP ratio is now more than 100 percent which increases the chance the United States will let the dollar deflate in value as it would be easier to repay its debt with cheaper money.

For the dollar to collapse there must be another currency for everyone to buy. The dollar’s current strength is based on its status as the world’s reserve currency. The dollar became the reserve currency when President Nixon abandoned the gold standard 1973. As a global currency, the dollar is used for more than 50% of all cross-border transactions which means central banks must hold the dollar in their reserves to pay for these transactions. Currently 61% of these foreign currency reserves are in dollars. Coming in 2nd by quite some distance is the euro at less than 30%. The Eurozone crisis has made its potential to become the world’s reserve currency obsolete.

China and Russia argue that a new global currency. Both countries would like their own currencies; the rubble and the Yuan to become the next world’s reserve currency. And for obvious reasons; it would lead to significant economic growth for China which is currently in the process of massive economic transformation. China is right to be alarmed at the dollar’s potential deflation because it is the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasurys, so it just saw its investment deteriorate. The dollar’s weakness also makes it difficult for China to control the yuan’s value, which is pegged to it.

Some more internationally minded people argue bitcoin could replace the dollar as the new world currency as it’s politically neutral and not controlled by any one country’s central bank. It is created, managed, and spent online making it 100% digital. It can also be used at brick-and-mortar shops that accept it, although this percentage is very low at the moment. Bitcoin is programmed to be finite which appeals to those who would rather have a currency that’s backed by something tangible, such as gold. Although many prominent gold advocates such as Peter Schiff and Robert Siyosaki are amongst Bitcoin’s fiercest critics. And criticism of bitcoin is not just luddite conservatism, there are big obstacles. First, its value is highly volatile as there is no central bank to manage it. Second, it is used frequently for illegal activities such as drug trafficking on the dark web, which makes it vulnerable to tampering by unknown forces.

For the dollar to collapse there needs to be a huge economic event that destroys people’s confidence in the dollar. Collectively, foreign nations own over $6 trillion in U.S. debt. If China or other key shareholders started dumping these holdings of Treasury notes, this could trigger a major panic leading to collapse. China owns $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury’s because China pegs the yuan to the dollar. By pegging the Yuan to the Dollar, China keeps the prices of its exports to America cheap.

China and other countries that own Dollars could only if they saw their holdings declining in value rapidly and they had another export market to replace the United States. The countries that own US treasury bonds are dependent on U.S. consumers. China, Japan and others all know that if they sell their dollars, it would further depress the value of the dollar. Which means their products, still priced in their own currencies will cost more in the United States, meaning exports could decline and their economies would suffer. Right now, it’s still in their best interest to hold onto their dollar reserves. Although economic developments in China could majorly change this current situation. China is selling more and more to other Asian countries as they become more economically developed. Furthermore Chinese manufacturers have already begun outsourcing to Africa, a continent now being dubbed Africa’s Africa.

Despite economic developments, for the time being the United States is the best market in the world for exporters so it’s unlikely a collapse is imminent despite what people trying to sell you vast quantities of gold will tell you on the internet. China knows that it’s bad business to bankrupt your best customer. But the dollar will gradually decline in value against the Yuen as China finds more markets to export to.

I recommend holding foreign mutual funds and valuable commodities such as gold and silver. I personally hold small amounts of crypto currencies for additional security. So whilst the Dollar collapse and the subsequent economic apocalypse are unlikely having a well diversified portfolio and liquid assets also is well advised.

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How Big Data is revolutionising advertising

Experts predict that by 2030 predictive analytics (the ability to use information to predict future actions) in marketing will be much more refined. Today we consume many products and services daily. Some of these purchases are easy to predict – a student will need books or a new parent will need a pram, etc.  However, most of the goods and services we purchase involve a decision process influenced by many factors including our income, values, mood and experiences on a particular day (all of which shape our purchasing preferences) as well as our awareness of the options available to us

Consumers are, thanks to the internet, more informed than ever before and through the sharing of information such their purchases, likes, dislikes and values online, huge amounts of data are being created. That’s why it’s called “Big Data”. The vast amount of data is so massive that usual data processing applications are incapable of managing it all, let alone analysing it.

As these massive amounts of data are becoming more open to tracking and analysis and the ability of information technology to deal with the data increases, opportunities are being created to understand the needs of consumers as individuals and provide them with purchasing options personal to them. Big Data contains not only information of individual preferences but also the potential to discover social trends of certain groups with similar preferences.  These trends will make it easier for marketers to understand potential customers better and, based on the past actions of actual customers, predict which products and services are most suited to those potential customers.

Online advertisements are generally disliked and if online advertising wants to survive, it must become less irritaing and more artful in order to draw-in the customer by entertaining or informing consumers rather than annoying them. The power of seeing a product in a setting that conveys a feeling that the consumer wants was first used to help sell products in photographic print advertising and TV commercials.  It is now the reason behind “product placement” on TV. Most recently, this type of visualisation has been used in vlogs and on the Instas of social influencers that link a personal story with the use of particular products and services. At the same time, online advertising has become more targeted.  For example, if you have ever added a product to your shopping cart of an online retailer but not purchased the product, chances are that you will have started seeing ads for that product when you visit other websites that feature advertising.  You may have also seen ads for products based on your recent purchase. This type of personalised advertising can be useful rather than invasive or annoying. 

The leap towards big data will allow marketers to understand consumers on a more personal level and the evolution of online visual media will allow marketers to provide individual consumers with very specific products and services, matching their personal needs. Advertisers regularly use images and words to link desirable lifestyles and feelings with their product  because advertisers know that people are more likely to buy something if they can easily see how using it in a way that makes them feel good. By 2019, leading information technology company Cisco predicts that 80% of the world’s internet traffic will be videos.  This speaks to how attracted human beings are to things that stimulated their visual senses.

By anticipating individual consumer’s future needs, big data driven marketing creates four career opportunities  in marketing: the Big Data Wrangler, the Purchase Prediction Analyst, the Multi-Marketer and the Marketing eMediamaker will all play a key role in the big data cycle. For more information on these careers please follow the hyperlinks.

March reading notes

Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

Ogilvy’s advertising classic is full of practical advice for anyone looking into a career in advertising. Arguably a little dated now the rise of the internet has transformed advertising but nevertheless a great read.

The four hour work week by Tim Ferris

Life changing. Completely transforms the way I look at business and life in general. It’s can be summed up as the pareto principle applied to the digital economy. Essential reading for indepentenly minded people wanting to leave conventional living behind. Slightly eccentric for some, Tim Ferris has a great podcast that is worth checking out if you liked the book

The Idiot Brain by Dean Burnett

Solid introduction to neuroscience and suprisingly funny. I definitely would have got more out of Neuroscience for dummies if I had of read this first.

Rich dad poor dad by Robert Kiyosaki

Best book I’ve read. I prefer this to Four Hour Work Week only because I think its more widely applicable. Essentially, this book critcises the working and middle classes for buying liabilities and luxuaries rather than assets. Rich people buy assets that provide them with passive income.

Scientific advertising by Claude Hopkins

Prefer this to Ogilvy’s because it has a slightly more systematic approach to advertising, which anyone could probably guess from the title: scientiffic advertising. I’d recomend this as an introduction into advertising because of this. Good book, I’ll be keeping it for reference. (I sell most books on Amazon once I’ve read them)

Big data: a very short introduction by Dawn E Holmes

Insightful book to anyone who is unfamiliar with big data its implications. Something I will defintely be reading more into.

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Alan & Barbara Pease

The thing that stood out to me most in this book is how many of our actions can be boiled down to confidence, power and attraction. Solid book to understand human nature and a good introduction into body language. I say introduction because it largely ignores microexpresssions.

Start with why by Simon Sinek

The only book this month I feel a little bit disapointed with. I feel like Simon could have written an article that sums it up much shorter, although that would obviously be less profitable. Repetitive but it does provide many examples which is useful to me as a business student. For others though, Sinek argues that comapanies need to show customers why they do things and not just what they do. A comapny’s why needs to be shown to consumers by what they provide and how they provide it.

Signals: how everyday signals can help us navigate the world’s turbulent economy by Pippa Malmgren

Taking on intellectual giants like Pikkety and Taleb, Dr Malmgren’s incredibly convincing and original book, Signals provides a good introduction into economics. Focusing on signs available for all to see rather than piles of mathmatical data, Malmgrem has a very accessible approach although it is definitely not free from bias.

February Reading Notes

Here’s a brief comment on the books I’ve read this February. I’ve never read 9 books in a month before and it was interesting how I many more connections between different books I made. I think reading this much in general has amazing effects of focus, mood and analytical reasoning in general.

Paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz

Starting off by detailing how consumer choice has actually left us psychologically worse off, Schwartz’s Paradox of choice does seem quite negative. But by being aware of how consumers, and people in general, make decisions you can definitely improve how you make decisions.

Key findings explored in the book include how more options aren’t always better because it makes it harder to decide, and to decide well. Even if you do decide well there is no protecting you from regret. Schwartz recommends that people limit their options in order to counter the excessive consumption and realise that the human mind is uniquely unfit to know what will make it happy. As soon as you know and understand how consumerism affects your brain you will be better able to mitigate its negative psychological effects.

Power of habit by Charles Duhigg

Cited by many business leaders and entrepreneurs as a must read I had to give it a go. The first part book talks of how we develop and break habits as individuals, the second part; as organisations and the third part as societies. So if you’re interested in psychology, organisational culture or sociology this books a brilliant read.

My main takeaways from this book are the importance of keystone habits and easy habit breaking. Keystone habits are habits that grow into other areas. A great example of this is journaling. Journaling for me has been particularly instrumental in maintaining my high levels of productivity. The way I like to put it is: if you know you’re going to have to write it down in black and white there’s no way you’re going to avoid doing your assignment in favour of a 4 hour Netflix binge.

Extreme ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Extreme ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin takes lessons from the battle field and applies them to business but largely in ways you wouldnn’t think. Jocko and Leif refer to clear communication, a lack of ego and a high degree of collectivism is essential for a teams performance. The underlying ethos of the book is that leaders should not blame their teams failure on anyone but themselves, they must take “extreme ownership”, the highest possible level of responsibility.

I did like this book and I can think of a lot of people with weak and failure attitudes could do this reading this book. It’s highly practical but if you don’t really care for long drawn out anecdotes then you might not enjoy it. It’s not that I don’t value practical experience and lessons it’s that I prefer advice to be based on data and studies. It’s definitely a “self help” book which is perhaps why I didn’t prefer it as much as the other books I read this month. If like me you prefer psychology, economics, sociology or philosophy books for yourself improvement I’d give this a miss. I’d recommend reading a summary.

Inside Organisations by Charles Handy

Handy’s Inside Organisations is a great book for a basic insight into organisational culture. Goes through different organisational cultures, psychological contracts and is very insightful throughout.

Post Truth: the new war on truth and how to fight back by Mathew D’Ancona

D’anacona’s Post Truth is a short book, covering the rise of and implications of the declining importance of truth. Citing elements of postmodern philosophy as being a driving force behind the new era of pos truth, D’Anacona draws parallels between Trump and Brexit to highlight the new reality: we are living in a post truth society.

Drive by Daniel H Pink

Drive by Daniel H Pink is a must read business book. Exposing the gap between what science knows and what business does in relation to motivation, Pink explains psychology and business theories in simple terms, making the book a great read for students.

Although the book is primarily concerned with the underappreciated contribution of Social Determination Theory, it also explores classic business theories like Theory X and Y and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In general my main take away from this book is that intrinsic motivation is essential to success in many areas of life.

Propaganda by Edward Bernays

Despite being obvious, at least to marketers now, Propaganda was revolutionary for its time. Written by Edward Bernays, the most important man you’ve never heard of, Propaganda discusses how triggering emotion and impulse can vastly increase sales.

Somewhat controversial, its not difficult to see why. The tone of the book is incredibly elitist and Machiavellian throughout. Thought provoking but its delivery seems needlessly sinister. To be fait to Bernays he does make a constant effort to justify use of propaganda and goes into the importance of ethical use of it.  He argues propaganda is used by all institutions and educators, politicians, businessmen, parents; learners are all affected by and can use propaganda

Influence by Robert Cialdini

Influence is a sales and marketing bible to say the least. Cialdini explores 7 key principles of persuasion and delves into how and why they work. Although written by Cialdini to warn consumers of “compliance practitioners” it’s considered essential reading for anyone in business. Best book I’ve read this month and that’s saying something because I’ve read 9. I won’t spoil it for you because this genuinely is a life changing book that a review or summary cannot do any degree of justice.

Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Homes by Maria Konnikova

Drawing on findings from the most recent and respected psychologists, Mastermind exposes the brains heuristics and cogitative biases that often let us down. There’s a lot of psychological effects to remember so if you’ve not read this sort of thing before I’d take notes, you won’t regret it.

To put it best this book is a more practical guide of the classic Thinking Fast and Slow with a lot of references to Sherlock Holmes. It’s definitely improved the way I think and make decisions.

To summarise…

I feel like I’ve learned more this month than I’ve learned in most academic years. My key takeaways overall is that I should think slow to think better and the benefits of taking action, building habits and getting stuff done.

7 habits of highly effective sleepers

A few weeks ago I was suffering from MOTN (Middle-of-the-night insomnia). Over the course of a month I had awoken around 3 in the morning every night and was almost always unable to go to sleep again for 2-3 hours. Over the years I had adopted a series of awful sleeping habits and I realised I had to make serious changes, after all people who sleep well are more focused, less neurotic and most importantly less tired! I knew, like anything in life, I had to learn the rules of the game before I could win. I browsed article after article and study after study and boiled down all the information I had gathered into 7 habits key habits. I hope you find this information as useful as I did.

  1. They exercise. Exercise helps sleep because it reduces stress and tires you out. Exercising daily creates a positive self sustaining cycle: You’re tired when you go to sleep so you get to sleep straight away which means you get good quality sleep and wake up refreshed in the morning. Because you woke up in the morning you’ll be tired if you stay up to late.
  • They limit naps: Long daytime naps can interfere with sleep later on at night, which is more important. If you choose to nap, limit yourself to up to 30 minutes and avoid doing so late in the day. If you can’t nap less than 30 minutes, then don’t. Sleep discipline is important.
  • They know caffeine is only a short term solution: Caffeine can help wake you up and even improve cogitative abilities but these cognitive benefits are short term. The stimulating effects of caffeine take hours to wear off and can damage on sleep quality. In fact studies show sleep quality can be disrupted by caffeine consumption up to 6 hour before sleep. That means if you want to be in bed at 11 don’t have any caffeine after 5.
  • Avoid alcohol: Like Caffeine, alcohol is a short term solution. Although alcohol might make you feel sleepy, it reduces quality of REM sleep, which is sleep’s most critical stage and thought to be restorative. Disruptions in REM sleep may cause daytime drowsiness and poor concentration throughout.
  • They have sleep friendly rooms: They don’t make it hard for themselves. Their rooms are designed to be perfect for sleeping. A cool, dark and quiet room is best. Exposure to light will make it much more challenging to fall asleep. Consider using a fan if your room is too hot and humid. Get good curtains that properly block out light. If you’ve got a noisy neighbour like I have, get earplugs.
  • They limit screen time before bed. Effective sleepers avoid the use of any light-emitting screens, a few hours before sleeping, as they disrupt you brain’s natural circadian rhythms to make you think it’s earlier than it is. Effective sleepers put their phone away out of reach from their bed. Having your phone out of reach is incredibly effective at improving sleep for two reasons; it means you won’t use light-emitting screens close to bedtime. It helps you switch off and relax. Finally and in my opinion most importantly, it means when you get up for your alarm you have to get out of bed to turn it off. I like to have a glass of water ready for me to drink every morning, a habit I will explain in a later post.
  • They understand the importance of consistency. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour, if this is undoable for you due to work commitments aim to limit the difference as much as you can. Consistency reinforces your body’s circadian rhythms cycle.

I hope this advice helps you as much as it helped me. Since adopting these habits I have dramatically mitigated the symptoms of MOTN insomnia. If you enjoyed this blog and would ike more life improving cotent then subscribe.

Bernays, Babies and Brexit: an introduction into social engineering

Edward Bernays The most important man you’ve never heard of

The founding father of Public Relations Edward Bernays was the first but definitely not the last to use symbolism and indirect methods of selling that appeal to subconscious desires and emotions. He was also one of the first people to use figures of authority to sell products, essentially getting a well-respected person to be associated with your product, will make your product more desirable. This is still widely used today and known as “Influencer Marketing”. Bernays most notable campaign is unsurprisingly a morally dubious one. Bernays was employed by the American Tobacco Company to remove the stigma of women smoking. He identified that slim figures were becoming more fashionable in women so he marketed cigarettes as a way to lose weight. Preying on potential insecurities, Bernays came up with the slogan “Reach for a lucky instead of a sweet” to help popularise the notion that cigarettes were a healthier alternative and a means to lose weight. Unfortunately, it did not stop there, Bernays reached out to photographers, newspapers, and magazines to encourage the idea that being thin was the new fashion. He was willing to offer medical experts enormous sums of money to advocate cigarettes as a health product. The campaign was successful but there was still a stigma around women smoking outdoors. Bernays paid leading suffragettes to smoke cigarettes during the Easter Sunday Parade in New York under the guise that female smoking was a cultural challenge against the conservative patriarchy. Photographers were hired by Bernays to make sure that there were high-quality photos for the newspapers. Once pictures were in the papers the “Torches of Freedom” Campaign sparked a cultural debate that spread across America. The women’s walk was seen as a protest for equality and sparked discussion throughout the nation. Feminist Ruth Hale, advocated for women to smoke as a means of emancipating themselves from cultural chains. “Women! Light another torch of freedom! Fight another sex taboo!” she said. In 1923 women only purchased 5% of cigarettes sold. In 1929 that percentage was 12%, in 1935; 18.1%, peaking in 1965 at 33.3%, and remaining at this level until 1977.

In the 1920s The United Fruit Company had huge holdings of land and railroads across Central America, which it used export bananas from Central America to the United States. By 1930 it was the largest landowner and employer in Guatemala for several years. The company virtually owned Puerto Barrios, Guatemala’s only port with access to the Atlantic. By 1950 the company’s annual profits stood at 65 million dollars, twice the revenue of the Guatemalan government.  22 years on from the “Torches of freedom campaign”, the democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz Guzman promised social reform that included the redistribution of unused agrarian land to the poor, a policy that made United Fruit feel threatened. Furthermore, Árbenz supported a strike of UFC workers in 1951, which eventually forced the company to rehire a number of laid-off workers. Between 1952 and 1954, Guatemala confiscated 1.5 million acres and redistributed it one hundred thousand poor families, including – in March 1953, 210,000 acres belonging to United Fruit. The company was offered compensation at the rate of 2.99 US dollars to the acre, twice what it had paid when buying the property.

Despite this reasonable offer United Fruit responded with an intensive lobbying campaign against Árbenz in the United States and it was Bernays who was going to be the mastermind behind it. Bernays orchestrated a campaign whereby universities, lawyers, the media and the US government would all condemn Arbenz redistribution as not just immoral but illegal. Within weeks The New York Times and other leading newspapers had all published articles describing the threat of Communism in Guatemala.

The Guatemalan government responded by saying that the company was the main obstacle to progress in the country. American historians Schlesinger and Kinzer, wrote in 1999 “to the Guatemalans it appeared that their country was being mercilessly exploited by foreign interests which took huge profits without making any contributions to the nation’s welfare.”But in the context of the Cold War anything resembling the policies of the USSR was regarded as an immediate threat to, not just America, but to freedom itself.

In 1953 200,000 acres of uncultivated company land was expropriated under Árbenz’s agrarian reform law, a move that resulted in even more lobbying in Washington, particularly by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who the company had close ties with. Bernays had begun a public relations campaign to discredit the Guatemalan government; spending over a half a million dollars to convince both lawmakers and members of the public in the US that Árbenz needed to be overthrown.

United Fruit distributed an anonymous Report on Guatemala to every member of Congress and they published a Guatemala Newsletter and sent it to 250 journalists every week, some of whom used it as a source for their reporting. Bernays formed close relationships with many journalists such as The NewYork Times reporters Will Lissner and Walter Winchell. Eventually like Bernays planned, the communism fearing President Eisenhower gave the CIA the green light to act. The CIA initiated Operation PBSUCCESS where they backed military force as well as a psychological warfare campaign to portray military defeat as a foregone conclusion. During the coup itself, Bernays was the primary supplier of information for the international newswires; United Press International, the International News Service and Associated Press. Following the coup, Bernays promoted the image of Guatemala’s new US installed dictator Carlos Castillo Armas. In effect what happened in 1954 is America toppled a democratically elected government to protect the financial interests of the United Fruit Company and installed a dictator. Under the guise of defending democracy, the US ended one in the name of corporate interests.

Babies: a retailer’s paradise

In the modern day marketing techniques are much more advanced and invasive. In the early 2000s, Andrew Pole, a mathematical genius was working as a statistician for Target, an American retailer. He was asked by the marketing department “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that?”Expecting and new parents are a retailer’s paradise. Most shoppers won’t buy everything they need at one store. Instead, they buy food at the supermarket and toys at the toy store and so on. The problem was shoppers only visit Target when they need specific items they associate with Target, such as cleaning supplies or new socks. But Target sells everything from food to furniture, so one of the company’s main goals is convincing customers that the only store they need is Target. But it’s an incredibly difficult message to get across because once consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained; it’s incredibly difficult to change them.

There are, however, some pivotal movements in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly much likelier to change. One of those moments is around the birth of a child. Parents are overrun and exhausted. It is in those moments when spending habits and brand loyalties are up for grabs. Because birth records are usually public, retailers were bombarding new parents with discounts and offers. Target needed to reach them earlier before any other retailers even know a baby is on the way. Specifically, Target wanted to send specially designed ads to expecting mums specifically in their second trimester, which is when mothers tend to start making baby-related purchases.

Pole used statistical analysis to identify 25 products that when purchased together indicate that a woman is very likely to be pregnant. Target used this information to send relevant discounts to expecting mothers so they would start shopping at target for all of their baby-related purcahses. Pole’s formula was combined with Target’s customer tracking technology with frightening effectiveness but it is one story that has made this campaign notorious.

The year is 2001 a father has walked into a Target just outside Minneapolis, holding coupons sent to his daughter, and he’s angry, and demands to see the manager. “My daughter got this in the mail!” he says enraged. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?” Needless to say, the manager apologises on behalf of Target for the coupons. And a few days later the manager rang the father to apologise again. But this time the father’s belligerent tone had vanished. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

Now if this level of technological intrusion does not bother you think about what else this could be used for. I have recently cut out processed meat and alcohol from my diet. A few weeks into quitting processed meat I received discounts on sausages at the self-service. A few weeks later, vouchers for beer and cider. And which evil global corporation is trying to keep me hooked on these well-known carcinogens? The Cooperative of all places, so much for an ethical brand. If the cooperative’s algorithms can identify which spending habits I’m changing, and attempt to disrupt this change, when this technology is in its infancy, what does the future hold? If general artificial intelligence surpasses the brightest of human minds like some experts state it will then these algorithms could become a much bigger issue than we could ever possibly conceive.

Big Data: the new means of control

Whilst previous methods of social engineering have been undoubtedly effective, we are now in the midst of profound change and whilst it is obvious that change is happening, its implications and direction is not nearly enough discussed. Target’s use of data and algorithms is effective and to be honest, creepy. But that data that Target used only consisted of basic demographic information like gender and location and spending habits from one shop. With the advent of the internet data can be collected from a wide range of sources to build a more detailed picture. Data on your personal habits, core beliefs and potential psychological weaknesses such as addiction or insecurity are being harvested with every click, like and share. This data is being used to form an emotional grappling hook to control the way you think about products, people and even politics. Simply agreeing to accept “cookies” when you log onto a website gives the website your data, including your internet history. Liking a post on FaceBook signals to advertisers you are more susceptible to buying one of their products, and so you will be targeted with adverts of that product. If you log onto someone’s FaceBook or YouTube account who has interests different from your own you will find the adverts also differ dramatically.

In 2015, Facebook announced that a mysterious company called Global Science Research harvested data through a Facebook app called thisisyourdigitallife. GSR offered users a small cash incentive to complete a survey on the condition they consented to share their personal details through Facebook. 270,000 people downloaded the app and inadvertently handed over information on its users, which included data on their likes and location to another mysterious company called Cambridge Analytica  This data enabled researchers to build detailed psychological profiles on millions of users. Cambridge Analytica uses this data to tailor political adverts to incredibly small groups of people, already knowing they would be responsive. If you thought Bernays and Target could be persuasive imagine if they could have personalised adverts using information from your detailed psychological dossier. Whistleblower Chris Wylie, a former employee at Cambridge Analytica, explained how the scheme worked:

 “Imagine I go and ask you: I say, ‘Hey, if I give you a dollar, two dollars, could you fill up this survey for me, just do it on this app’, and you say, ‘Fine’.”

“I don’t just capture what your responses are, I capture all of the information about you from Facebook, but also this app then crawls through your social network and captures all that data also. By you filling out my survey, I capture 300 records on average. And so that means that, all of a sudden, I only need to engage 50,000, 70,000, 100,000 people to get a really big data set really quickly, and it’s scaled really quickly. We were able to get upwards of 50 million-plus Facebook records in the span of a couple of months.”

He added that “almost none” of the individuals knew about how their data was used.

It is only recently with the exposure of the Cambridge Analytica’s role in the Brexit Referendum and Trump’s election, that this use of big data and invasions of privacy are being covered by the mainstream media. Data has become a currency, traded between faceless corporations to be used against you. Data harvesting technologies have become the contemporary source of power and the data can be used, when interpreted and marketing correctly, as a means of control to alter how we consume but also, more worryingly, how we vote. The implications of this are frightening; in the digital age, it is they who control data who have economic and political power. I will leave you with this alarming quote from master manipulator, Edward Bernays, in his Magnum Opus Propaganda.

 “There are invisible rulers who control the destinies of millions. It is not generally realized to what extent the words and actions of our most influential public men are dictated by shrewd persons operating behind the scenes.”