Friday, May 7, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and TGIF!
Apparently the pandemic has moved casual Fridays to the next level: you may recall that Apr 16 was “Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day,” and now apparently today it’s “No Pants Day.” (More than 25 cartoonists plan to eliminate pants from their comic strips today, too, and encouraging clothing donations to charity.) We can’t blame this on COVID19 though: No Pants Day was reportedly initiated decades ago by Texas undergrads, as a way to celebrate the end of final exams.
How the pandemic has impacted fashion, though, does have implications for the future of remote work, and also by analogy for higher ed business models, and creative self-expression. That will tie in nicely to some observations from attending yesterday’s (virtual) “Think 2021” conference at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, where the future of work looks like a lot more “no pants days” to come!
And no, it’s not your imagination: I’m starting to ease up on my Friday morning publication deadline, for the sake of my own wellbeing. Somehow my schedule is always heaviest on Thursdays, making it a real challenge to finish an issue before midnight… my apologies if it doesn’t suit your lunch-hour routine nearly as well as your morning coffee!
Over the past decade I have become increasingly intrigued by the challenge of inspiring innovation in the academic context. (Ironically, researchers are passionate about uncovering discoveries that shift paradigms in their field, but most of us are less excited by abrupt pivots in how we do our jobs.) Innovative thinking is integrally connected to creativity and imagination, as was apparent from the opening of SK Poly’s “THINK 2021” conference…
The Power of Creativity
The day opened with a music-themed, musical keynote from Juno-winning singer-songwriter David Usher – perhaps the only conference speaker I’ve seen with his own backup guitarist. (Then again, he also had a backup “Einstein.”) Usher has worked with Google and other AI companies, founded Reimagine AI, and has cowritten songs with Lyric AI. He warned that “we are about to hit AI at scale,” although “right now it’s pretty dumb.” But once an AI truly masters a discrete task, no human will ever do it better, and AI can scale globally. The human competitive advantage, though, is imagination and “curved-line thinking.” We need creativity to navigate times of disruption, and we can hone our creative skillset through daily conscious practice, physical movement, and creative collisions between disciplines and perspectives. (Usher combined political science and modern dance in his undergraduate at SFU.) To innovate, we need to “escape the gravitational pull of the ordinary.” (More than anything else, we need to ensure we graduate students with imagination and creative thinking skills – which traditional modes of education too often diminish rather than nourish, as the late Ken Robinson taught us.)
How to Drive Innovation
Next up was a roundtable discussion featuring operational innovation leaders from a range of sectors. Under the pandemic, SK Health’s virtual care strategy accelerated by at least 5 years, with remote patient consultations, home health monitoring and digital patient records all widely adopted. Of course PSE pivoted to remote delivery, saving a cohort of students from a universal gap year, and the SK Ministry of Advanced Ed anticipates that institutions will continue to leverage those innovations where they make sense, to grow institutional revenues and reduce expenses. The panelists observed that technological innovation cannot be imposed from the top of an organization, but needs to emerge from the experience of front-line experts, and be offered to employees as a service to help them. It’s also critical that we don’t simply automate existing inefficient or ineffective processes (so in PSE, we need to ensure the system supports student success before we scale it up). What leaders can do, though, is set the tone for an innovation culture from the top, supporting innovators and champions (many of whom are young and have less authority on campus), and demonstrating forgiveness for experiments that fail. (ICYMI, I explored perspectives from CdnPSE leaders on these topics in a 3-part Ten with Ken series, “Nurturing a Culture of Innovation.”)
In some ways, COVID19 has thrust us all a decade into the future, particularly when it comes to digitization, online transactions, and remote collaboration. (The tech platforms and infrastructure aren’t quite “there” yet, of course, but that’s another topic.) Still, when we look ahead another decade, more change is coming for higher ed and the nature of work…
SK Poly CEO Larry Rosia hosted a “fireside chat” (what, no virtual fireplace?) with Jake Hirsch-Allen, founder of Lighthouse Labs and North American Workforce Development and Higher Ed Lead for LinkedIn. As you might expect, Hirsch-Allen had plenty of provocative ideas about the future of higher ed, from modular, unbundled courses and employer-funded lifelong learning, to an emphasis on problem-based learning and industry-relevant curriculum that is “updated every quarter” in consultation with employers. (Although employers often need help from “interlocutors” to help them define and articulate the skills they require.) He emphasized (as you might expect) that it’s wrongheaded to view Linkedin Learning as “the Netflix to the Blockbuster of CdnPSE,” when institutions could be leveraging and embracing the platform. That the more we as a society invest in K-12 education, to ensure the social determinants of success, the better PSE will be: “The earlier we invest the more impact it has.” And finally, Hirsch-Allen encouraged us to reframe the challenges of pandemic isolation “as a different kind of adventure.”
The Future of Work-Life Balance
Guy Kawasaki, famous as brand evangelist for Apple and now Canva, joined us fresh off his surfboard in California with the sunburn to prove it, to share some ideas about the future of work. (His shirt almost looked like a wetsuit.) He believes that COVID19 has “changed all the rules,” and that from here on, work will be hybrid, 24×7, and “integrated” rather than “balanced” with life. Management needs to become more trusting, employees need to be self-disciplined, and instead of booking vacation time off, they will need to learn to set personal boundaries. As for PSE, Kawasaki suggests that certificates like Google’s credentials are “the new undergraduate degree,” that lifelong learning will replace the old model of graduation, and that 14 months is “far too early” to decide that online learning isn’t working for some students.
The day wound up with a roundtable on the future of work, featuring 4 CEOs from the province’s software, Indigenous development and agricultural sectors. They agreed that key trends shaping the future of their industries include machine learning and digitization, global logistics, big data and ecommerce. Consumer expectations are rising considerably for service, food traceability, and the opportunity to collaborate on products and solutions. Remote work is already transforming space utilization and creating heightened global competition for talent. The panel advised PSE students to balance technical skills with fundamentals including communication, time management, and teamwork – but emphasized too the need for curiosity, empathy, a bias for action, and an entrepreneurial mindset. Employers and government need to work together on the “economic necessity” of increasing labour force participation by women and Indigenous people, especially in SK. But of course, employers and industry also need to partner with PSE institutions like SK Poly to define the skills required 3 years hence, develop the training programs to meet those needs, and to support them financially and otherwise. Work experience for students is crucial, so employers need to take on student interns, not as free labour but as an investment in the future.
In honour of No Pants Day, a look at how the world of fashion has been propelled into the future by the COVID19 pandemic…
After 14 months of intermittent lockdowns and WFH, our society’s personal grooming habits and fashion obsession has changed markedly. Anything out of webcam view is irrelevant – hence the comeback of the mullet. And until Zoom supports Smell-o-vision™, it looks like the daily shower has fallen out of common use too…
Not only have shopping malls been locked down, but people have been buying far fewer new clothes with fewer people to impress. Weddings, cocktail receptions and fundraising dinners have been cancelled, along with proms and graduations. Apparel revenue is expected to drop by a third, about $640B. Retailers are seeing sales plunge 50-80%, and some 40 retailers have filed for bankruptcy. In Australia, the price of merino wool is in “freefall,” down 50%. (Sadly, many sheep are now being sold for meat.) In Europe, brand-name suits are being marked down 50%. What people are buying are stretchy indoor clothes like leggings and sweats, often in a larger size than they wore pre-COVID. (Would you believe haute couture sweatpants?) Sales of sweats were up 80% in April. Thanks to ecommerce, Lululemon saw its net revenue jump 22% to $1.1B in Q3 2020. Athleisure sales are expected to grow by $81B by 2024. Online shoppers are less likely to opt for fitted, structured styles, and more interested in stretchy, loose-fitting fabrics. Target reports that “workout wear” is becoming “work wear,” and analysts are predicting a collapse of formalwear categories for some time. Much like retail and higher ed, midrange fashion brands are expected to feel the squeeze as consumers opt for low-end value or high-end indulgence.
Resistance is Futile
Last Fall, preparing for remote learning, the Springfield Illinois school district emphasized its dress code for online classes: no hats, bandanas, pyjama pants or slippers, even if students are studying from their bedrooms. (In fact, the remote learning guidelines stipulate that students should be “sitting up out of bed, preferably at a desk or table.”) “Our hope is that students approach remote learning as they would in a classroom setting.” Said one 14-year-old, succinctly: “It sounds stupid.” New York Times
“Fast Fashion” had environmentalists up in arms before the pandemic: with just 8B humans on the planet, why do we need to produce 100B articles of clothing a year? Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of purpose-driven brands and sustainable fashion – as well as the plight of factory workers. With lower sales, retailers have cancelled some $3B in orders, and the 40M people employed by the garment industry are struggling. And the backlash against vinyl and its environmental impacts (from PVCs to microplastics) is growing. Perhaps biodegradable fabrics that dissolve, made of silk cocoon proteins or algae extracts, could be the wave of future fashion. (SFU chemistry researchers just announced a new waterproof coating that is free of harmful compounds.)
“A few years ago, we were all talking about how fast fashion was bad for the planet and workers. These issues have been heightened and focused by the pandemic.” – Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, in Fast Company
Apparently even the hottest designers are at a loss to predict what clients will want to wear come Fall 2021. The latest Chanel collection is “almost exclusively monochrome” and “there remains a lingering hesitancy in [the designer’s] creative conviction.” Saint Laurent’s fall collection includes “silver leather hot pants” and “metallic micro-skirts trimmed in fake fur,” “big hobo bags and swingy shoulder purses.” Says the designer, “serious matters push you to take other things less seriously.” New York Times
“Many of us are questioning what is really essential and what is not… We’re asking ourselves what is it that clothes really do for us. This mentality could stick and lead to a much healthier industry in the future.” – Maxine Bédat, Founder, New Standards Institute
The Pendulum Swings Back?
Naturally, designers optimistically expect “fashion to come back in a big way” post-pandemic, as people emerge from hibernation and exult in social extravagance once more. They point to the rise of Christian Dior post-WWII, as women ditched jeans and coveralls to embrace fitted waists and jackets – although there was also a lasting normalization of pants for women. While some may reject “the ultra-relaxed lockdown look” after COVID, “the shift toward comfort may endure.” The long-term trend since the 1990s has been for business casual to evolve from suits to khakis – and all the way down to hoodies and sneakers in Silicon Valley. Fast Company
Coming back to innovation and creativity…
More Creativity & Expression?
One Australian leadership development consultant predicts that professional fashion will be much more individualistic, personalized, and informal: “The way we choose to show up, whether it be pared down, more colourful, more casual or demonstrating more individual flair, will be the next normal.” Suits are becoming more comfortable, knit and stretchy, but ties are “definitely waning in popularity.” (Guess I’ve been ahead of my time for a decade now!) Sydney Morning Herald
On Monday (barring any major developments on other fronts) I’m going to recap the latest announcements for Fall 2021. In that spirit…
What Not to Wear
Last fall, comedians at McSweeney’s proposed some reminders of what not to wear after Labour Day, should we get to return to campus. Obviously, don’t wear white – that rule hasn’t changed. But also, forget sunglasses – we’re all starved for eye contact. Don’t wear your mask as a necktie – it still belongs over your mouth and nose. Obviously, scrubs are now “stolen valour.” And gradually, get yourself used to wearing clean clothes again! McSweeney’s
You know we’ve been in pandemic purgatory too long when a sugar-free gum commercial moves you to tears. ICYMI (although 1.1M people have already watched it)…
For When It’s Time
As vaccinations roll out and we all anxiously wonder what it will feel like to emerge from isolation and return to society again, Extra Gum nicely captures our mood in this amusing, uplifting 2.5-min longform commercial set to Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” (Best use of that song I’ve ever seen.) As the shocked newscaster announces “We are back! We can see people again!”, unshaven hordes emerge from their dark homes, astonished by the feeling of sunshine on their faces and the opportunity to get away from mountains of toilet paper and pizza boxes. Somehow it’s exhilarating to see Zoom callers disconnect, office building doors reopen, and strangers embrace in the park (or just hug the trees). “We could all use a FRESH start.” Better stock up on chewing gum now… YouTube
I hope that wraps up your Friday afternoon on an upbeat note. As always, thanks for reading. Have a lovely, safe weekend – and if you spot rocket debris, duck!
See you Monday!
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