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Posted 11 Oct 2012

A Day In The Life: James Wallman

Courvoisier UK asked CVTF500 ambassador, and host of August’s The Future Series networking session, James Wallman, to share a typical day in his life.

I’d like to say I don’t have a typical day. Who wants to admit that in this day and age? Since I have a Monday to Friday job, I guess I better confess that there is a recognisable pattern.

If I’m lucky, I won’t have been woken in the night by my one-year-old, India-May. I’m up sometime between 5 and 7, to do a bit of work on the book I’m writing: it’s about how our culture is shifting from materialist to “experimentalist” values.

It’s one of the joys of of the sort of journalism I do – innovations and trends forecasting – that I get to speak with some of the world’s smartest & most innovative people. Today, for example, I’ve been in touch with Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, the historian and genius author of Civilizations. He told me he’s “telephonophobic” so I’ve had to conduct the interview by email. In his email reply, he wrote things like “phylogenetic change”, he attacked the veracity and use of the Hegelian dialect and quoted what the Russian emissary said to Napolean before he invaded Russia: “Sire, Charles XII took the road through Poltava.”  I’ve also spent an hour and a half Skype-video interviewing Ryan Howell, a professor at San Francisco University who is leading the charge in finding out why experiential goods make people happier than material goods. (Find out more on Ryan, and your own motivations and values at BeyondThePurchase.org) But that was 2.30pm California time, so 10.30pm UK time & I’m getting ahead of myself.

I cycle to the office, which, according to the app on my telephone tells me is between 9.16 and 9.63 miles, depending I suppose on how the GPS is working that day. My route takes me from leafy west London through Hyde Park, past the palace, the House of Parliament, Nelson on his column, along the Strand, past St Paul’s and through the city to Spitalfields. The company I work for – The Future Laboratory – has converted three Edwardian houses into workspace: it’s a trend consultancy, so naturally we have a indoor-outdoor garden, with a vertical  scaffold garden, by Phil Handford and the team at Campaign, that produces salady things for lunch, and there’s a beehive on the roof.

Shower and into the emails, admin, blah blah blah. Then, the boring stuff dealt with, research and reading – digging around for new ideas, ready for the daily 10.30am ideas meeting: that’s where the journalists and visual analysts of the team I run gather to discuss ideas they found online or in magazines or in newspapers, or heard about from PRs, designers, contacts or correspondents. Since our job is to provide members of LS:N Global – who include Selfridges, Nike, Nokia, Pernod Ricard and Louis Vuitton with consumer insights, innovations and trends, it’s a great meeting. It’s satisfying to come across new ideas and innovation that either confirm trends we’ve predicted or suggest anomalous and deviant directions, or add to ongoing trends we’re working on – such as Faction Marketing, which is about how we’re getting past the ‘authenticity age’ and smart brands are blending fact with fiction and fiction with fact to make their stories more compelling. It’s also fun because the team is made up of talented and quite brilliant people. Since there’s a lot of stuff out there, & our role is to filter out the stuff and find things that have meaning, sometimes, out of 30 story ideas, we’ll find 20 that work. Other days, less than ten make it past the razor I and the team apply to the ideas that get pitched. You can see some of the results of that work at www.lsnglobal.com/seed.

Then the day varies. Too many meetings and emails. Could include a talk – to a client such as Pentland or EMI, or taking part in a panel at the Boutique Hotel Summit. Could be a coffee or lunch – with a contributor such as Guy Bird (awesome car writer) or my China editor Adrian Sandiford (ex-GQ, based in Shanghai, over here for a holiday) or a contact such as James Layfield, founder of Central Working. Could include a phone interview or a video interview, say, with John Andrews, ex-deputy editor at The Economist. I suddenly wonder if that sounds like name dropping rather than me just trying to paint a picture of my day? I’ve decided it isn’t. If I worked in celebrity journalism, my list would be movie and music stars. Since I work in trends and innovations and I’m an editor, my list is journalists and innovators, and rather than A, B and C list celebs, people who want to talk about Brazil’s A, B and C class consumers – especially as the New Emerging Affluents, about the rise of the new middle classes, is one of the macrotrends we’re working on right now.

I’m out of the office by 6ish. Sometimes to a an event – like Sam Bompas & Harry Parr’s awesome crazy golf on the roof of Selfridges (which I Instagrammed like, er, crazy). Sometimes for a bit more work – this evening I went via the LSE library (tip: they don’t accept your tax return for proof of address), and found the book I’ve been wanting for ages: Consumer Engineering, by Roy Sheldon and Egmont (what kind of name is that?) Arens. It was published in 1932, and, to my mind, is the key tome on how the era of materialism started. Sample quote: “Any plan which increases the consumption of goods is justifiable if we believe that prosperity is a good thing.”

Sometimes just home, for bath time with my baby girl. Once she’s down and dinner’s done, a bit of reading (our TV isn’t connected to an aerial so it’s Lovefilm or a book): non-fiction by Michael Lewis and Tom Wolfe, and perhaps something that evokes an earlier era, like Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie or Jan Morris’ Sultan in Oman. On my ideal day, I’d find new reserves to make it to a natural stopping point. Usually, I’ll fall asleep any old where, book in hand.

In case you’re interested, my Twitter handle is @jameswallman. I periodically pop stuff up there.

 

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