Discover more from Strands of Genius
Strands of Genius: Testing Advertising, Placebos, Adoration of the Night
Plus: Is fitness a privilege?
WRITING FROM | Seattle, WA
WORKING ON | travel planning, birthday celebrations, & baby cuddles
April 26-28 | Palm Springs, CA
April 28-May 5 | Los Angeles, CA
May 5- June 9 | Seattle, WA
June 9-14 | Portland, OR
June 14-19 | Lake Tahoe, NV
June 19-26 | *a destination clouded in secrecy*
June 26-June 30 | Nashville, TN
June 30-July 2 | Beersheba Springs, TN for a family reunion & 100 YEAR CELEBRATION of the family house!
July 2-8 | TBD
July 9 | Nashville, TN
July 10-26(ish) | Worcester Park, UK
:: WHAT’S NEW & WEEKLY GRATITUDE ::
By the time this arrives in your inbox, it will be Faris’ birthday! He keeps telling me that he’s almost 50, but what that actually means is he’s turning 45. (His dental hygienist told him, “You’re not that old!” and when he said “Thanks!” she continued with “My parents are 47.” LOL.)
Birthday presents are tough for nomads, because of the whole carry-on-bag packing situation, but we’ll be spending the day going on adventures and playing tourists in Seattle, enjoying some quality time together.
We’re also using the month of May as *Health Club* - more on that below. Our renewed commitment to our health is our birthday present to ourselves :)
Wishing you the happiest birthday, Faris! Here’s to the best year yet 🙌
And for everyone else, don’t you worry because we Geminis have got you covered with the good vibes. Let the fun begin 🥳
This week, we’re especially thankful for:
the warm weather and sunshine in Seattle, cuddles with our niece Beck, family dinners, the new season of Queer Eye, ginger beer and non-alcoholic IPAs, Ryan&Kerri&Arthur, learning a new game, baked potatoes, Seward Park, Grocery Outlet, birthday celebrations & YOU.
:: THE LINKS ::
CAN YOU TEST ADVERTISING?
Faris’ column for WARC looks at creative testing, both classic and modern, and considers what can be accurately considered a ‘test’. We now seem to know a lot more about what makes creative work effectives and can run ads through ‘AIs’ trained on that data - but are those really tests? Creatives universally abhor it but Ogilvy loved it: “The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is TEST. If you pretest your product with consumers, and pretest your advertising, you will do well in the marketplace…” (WARC)
WHY I ADORE THE NIGHT
A love letter to the darkness, ‘the time to think, to dream, to love,’ from Jeanette Winterson. She argues that our always on culture has phased out the rhythm of the night, with brightness being attainable at any given time. But think about magical moments without electric light - nights around a campfire, or when electricity goes out and you’ve got candles in the dark. Winterson writes, “I have noticed that when all the lights are on, people tend to talk about what they are doing – their outer lives. Sitting round in candlelight or firelight, people start to talk about how they are feeling – their inner lives. They speak subjectively, they argue less, there are longer pauses.
To sit alone without any electric light is curiously creative. I have my best ideas at dawn or at nightfall, but not if I switch on the lights – then I start thinking about projects, deadlines, demands, and the shadows and shapes of the house become objects, not suggestions, things that need to done, not a background to thought.”
I live for the warmth of the summer, for the long days and warm evenings — but this reminds me there’s beauty in the dark and coldness, too. (The Guardian)
SUGAR PILL NATION
We know the placebo effect is real — and many scientific studies have sought to separate out placebo effects from effective treatment. But what if we’re thinking about it wrong? In the past few decades, more and more researchers have sought to *harness* the placebo power. Last year, a study published in Scientific American had participants dwell on an experience that made them feel guilty. And then they were given a sugar pill, a placebo. “In the end, the study’s feelings of guilt were *significantly reduced* after taking the pill —the pain of old hurts softened, the ghosts quelled.”
It turns out the placebo effect can work on everything from fatigue to chronic pain, from IBS to Parkinson’s disease — and recently, emotions! They’ve been tested on distressing feelings including guilt, anxiety, rumination, sadness, fear and even disgust. Placebos have been thought to be shams, but what if they are actually a tool to help us regulate emotions? It’s hard to simply ‘stop feeling’ something on your own, but placebos allow us to ‘outsource emotional regulation onto placebo objects, like pills or nasal sprays.’ And what I found especially fascinating was that healing effects can still occur *even when subjects know they are getting a placebo.* (Nautilus)
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:: IS FITNESS A PRIVILEGE? ::
Over the years of our nomadic life, we’ve had periods of what we call ‘Health Club.’ Health Club usually involves sobriety and an added emphasis on exercise. It is sometimes chosen, like when we lived with our friends Rachel and Mike and did Whole 30 together for a month. And sometimes it’s simply a matter of the location where we are, like in Rishikesh, a holy city where alcohol is not allowed, and where one of our favorite yoga teachers lives.
Health Club almost always corresponds with periods of less work, or even no work, because it’s hard to change your habits or to prioritize your health when you’ve got a lot going on in other parts of your life. It’s why we decided May would be a Health Club month for us: We wrapped up a big strategic sprint on May 12th, which was also my sister’s due date, and planned for meetings only with existing clients through June 1st. We knew that in order to be there for my sister, it would be helpful to have free time, in which we could be called upon last minute — for babysitting so they can sleep, cooking meals, running errands, etc. — the things that are hard to plan for.
May 1st began our venture into a temporarily alcohol-free lifestyle, and because physical therapy only works when you actually follow the exercises you’ve been given… I decided that my birthday present to myself (at the end of May) was a commitment to doing the work every day for the month of May. (I went to a physical therapist in March or April for my neck/shoulder but the plan they gave me was for 35 minutes a day, 7 days a week. And when I missed one day, I felt guilty and kinda just gave up.)
May 1st-5th we were in Los Angeles, and then traveling to Seattle and still wrapping up the sprint, but I managed to finish all my PT exercises, each day, and added in some walking where I could. But once we got to Seattle, and were truly winding down on work, I found a new routine and rhythm: An early dinner led to an early bed time, which led to an early wake-up. I’d make coffee, go for a walk through the woods, get to the coast, and set up for my PT, while listening to a podcast. Then, I’d switch to music, and do anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours of yoga. I’d walk home, drop off my yoga mat and resistance bands, refill my water bottle, and then go for a walk. And then I’d come home and do a few hours of work before thinking about dinner plans. I felt great! The weather was beautiful, and I’ve been enjoying being outside and moving my body for 3-6 hours of the day for the last 17 days.
It’s been a magical experience, and I wanted to share it with the rest of the world but I stopped myself because as soon as I started thinking those thoughts, I started thinking about how my movement schedule would be difficult, if not impossible, with a full time job. And working part time is, well, a a privilege.
I sent a voice note to my friend Heather, asking her “is exercise a privilege?” I asked my sister, Lillian, who is a substitute teacher, Cross Fit coach, and student of jujitsu the same thing. She spoke about the incredibly high costs of going to a gym, and I said, “But I’m not even going to a gym — I’m just walking!” “Right, but forget the fact that you’re walking in a gorgeous, maintained coastal walkway — it can be expensive to own or rent in an area where walking is even safe,” she reminded me. “And that’s not even factoring in that we are able-bodied individuals,” I added.
“Healthism” is a term coined in the 1980s by economist Robert Crawford, and essentially refers to when we make health problems individual problems. (And therefore solutions, as well.) You might not have heard of the term, but you’ve surely experienced the pervasive messaging that’s creeped into today’s society. Messages like “If you don’t exercise, you’re lazy.” Or even the fact that it’s seen as an individuals fault if they get sick, as if it was something they could have prevented had they been more attuned to or focused on their own health.
But the thing is, none of us have complete control over our own health.
Faris was born with asthma. It’s not his fault that he needs an inhaler to breathe, and yet we bear the cost of that — And it’s not cheap! His inhalers can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars a month (depending on what medicine, the modern preventatives are still expensive, and insurance doesn’t cover them but it gets more annoying see below). Is breathing a privilege? According to the American healthcare system, yes.
Put another way: To be healthy requires you to be wealthy.
(Side note: We have spent approximately $100,000 on health insurance since we started our company. We call it bankruptcy insurance, because it doesn’t help us stay healthy at all (we’ve never once met our $7500/person deductible or $14,500 family deductible), but considering the number one cause of bankruptcy in America is healthcare, it seemed like a good idea to protect ourselves against it.
Even with insurance, equivalent medicine are multiple times more expensive in USA than buying them over the counter elsewhere. Ventolin cost us $70-80 with insurance in USA and it’s often $5 or less when we’re traveling. If we use insurance to pay for the aforementioned preventative inhalers, they also cost more than if we self-pay. In general, even pharmacists seem able to offer invisible discounts, especially if you self pay. There is also something called Good RX which can make things cheaper but no one seems to understand how - no pharmacist has been able to explain it to us. Pricing in general is opaque and negotiated by intermediaries called Pharmacy Benefit Managers, but, for example, CVS owns Aetna and the biggest PBM and it’s all so very suspicious looking that even the FTC is finally investigating pricing.
It makes no sense and is incredibly infuriating.
You can click the above to see the video before the paywall. It will remind you, in case you don’t know, that Medicare, the biggest purchases of drugs, is forbidden by Congress to negotiate on price, making an obvious mockery of any attempt to maintain healthcare is functional market.
Fitness isn’t just about exercise and physical health, it’s about nutrition and mental health, too. And both of these come with high costs — It’s more expensive to cook a healthy meal than it is to eat at a fast food restaurant. We’re not just talking about the dollar to dollar ratio here. “Ultimately, like anything else worth doing, eating well while minimizing your food spending will require a bit of effort, including doing research,” writes Brian Sonoma for Forbes.
“After separating fitness, and acquiring it, into the two primary components of eating and exercising, I have almost become ashamed of the way I treat my decision-making regarding fitness. That is, in the first place, I already have the privilege of choice. The majority of people around the world do not have the ability to choose to exercise or to choose to eat “well.” They simply have to consume whatever they have available. Furthermore, the idea of exercise as a separate act of exerting physical labor — separate from the rest of everyday life — immediately reveals the presence of free time in an individual’s life, something that certainly should not be taken for granted.”
But back to exercise… It’s something that, in theory, any of us can do. But besides walking, learning what you can do outside of a gym still requires money and time. My physical therapy required an intake appointment which cost $300 before they would even schedule me for PT. The less-than-one-hour PT appointment, where the office was understaffed and I didn’t even have someone assigned to me the whole time (I shared a trainer with 2-3 others) cost $150. And the only availability was during the working day.
Which brings me to another problem: sitting. Something that so many of us are required to do for our jobs.
Simply the act of sitting is undeniably bad for our health.
There are more than 115,000 articles with the exact phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking.”
Medium risk is defined as sitting for 4-7 hours a day, and HIGH risk is sitting for 8+ hours a day. Not only are you in danger of the obvious side effects - a bad back, hip flexors shortening, etc - but research suggests that people who spend more time sitting have a 112 per cent higher risk of diabetes. Even sitting for 6 to 8 hours daily was associated with a 12% higher risk of early death and a 13% higher risk of heart disease. Not to mention the mental health risks that come with prolonged periods of sitting. (To be fair, we don’t have a lot of research into sitting and mental health but there is a strong correlation between those who sit for long periods but we do know that people who sit more are at higher risk of experiencing anxiety and depression.)
Money and time are both privileges... along with standing desks, ha. And when Heather and I jumped on the phone she pointed out something I hadn’t quite realized: “It sounds like you’re feeling guilty. Is that right?” I took a deep breath and nodded. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt guilt associated with my privilege so I wanted to dive a little deeper.
From James Madison University’s paper, The Breeze: “For many people hearing the word “privilege” tends to elicit reactions of guilt or negative emotions, feeling shame for being able to partake in things or reap the benefits of certain experiences that others are unable to. Talking about privilege shouldn’t prompt shame – for the most part, it’s out of people’s control. Instead of feeling shame, considering one’s privilege should be a process of being mindful of what impacts one’s own experience versus others.”
Thinking about fitness, nutrition, health, exercise as an opportunity for self-improvement is privilege, but I’m trying to lean into that as a helpful reframe. Instead of thinking about exercise as a chore, if we think about it has a privilege, and put it in the same category as, say, international travel, maybe privilege becomes a motivating factor when taking care of our physical bodies.
And beyond privilege, it’s also about priorities. Sometimes our priority after work is to veg out and binge the latest season of Queer Eye. There’s no shame in that. But setting priorities in advance, and building habits can help to guide our actions.
We don’t sprint for long distances, they’re designed to be short and discreet. With marathons, we have to pace ourselves (I mean, I haven’t run a marathon, but I’m aware of the idea of pacing!) Setting ourselves up for success isn’t just about short term sprints, but also attainable long term habits. And that looks different for all of us. I can’t tell you what will work for you, just as you can’t tell me what will work for me. Building habits, routines, or rituals requires some experimentation.
When we heard a neuroscientist speak at a recent event, someone asked about what they could do to support their teams from a leadership perspective. “Help them get better sleep,” she said, totally un-ironically. But after reading all the research on just how bad sedentary lives are for individuals — and after reaping the benefits of mown renewed focus on movement, maybe it’s time for leaders to give their teams permission to prioritize movement, too. This could come to life as:
a gym stipend,
team building that removes around movement rather than drinking,
standing or walking desks,
flexible hours so that people can prioritize their own health,
As for me, we leave Seattle on June 9th, and begin a whirlwind travel schedule - first around the West Coast, then back to the South, before we head out of the USA for the rest of the year. I’m soaking up Health Club while I can, but also trying to think about what happens when work and travel pick back up.
I’m curious — How do you move during your day? What, if anything, does your company do to support you? And if you’re a leader, how do you support your team?
If we can ever be of help to you, even outside of a formal engagement, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
faris & rosie & ashley | your friends over at geniussteals.co
@faris is always tweeting
@rosieyakob hangs out on instagram
@ashley also writes for deaf, tattooed & employed
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It's called Genius Steals because we believe ideas are new combinations and that nothing can come from nothing. But copying is lazy. We believe the best way to innovate is to look at the best of that which came before and combine those elements into new solutions.
Co-Founders Faris & Rosie are award-winning strategists and creative directors, writers, consultants and public speakers who have been living on the road/runway since March 2013, working with companies all over the world. Our Director of Operations is nomadic like us, our accounting team is based in Tennessee where our company is registered, our admin extraordinaire is based in Playa del Carmen, and our collaborators are all over the world. Being nomadic allows us to go wherever clients need us to be, and to be inspired by the world in between.
Hit reply and let’s talk about how we might be able to work together :)