November 4, 2019

The Importance of the Daily "Brain Shower" aka Sleep

The Wired’s Sara Harrison breaks down the results of a study by Dr. Laura Lewis on the importance of sleep (as if you needed another reminder). Lewis and her team at Boston University Lab have revealed how our body clears toxins out of our brains as we sleep.

The Study

The study aimed to test the role of non-REM (deep) sleep in removing toxins in the brain by examining sleep cycles that were as realistic as possible. Here’s how they did that:

  • Late nights: to ensure the sleep cycles were as realistic as possible, subjects were instructed to stay up late the night before so that they could drift off easily at midnight, when the tests were run.
  • Non-invasive: Participants had to lie down and fall asleep inside an MRI machine and were fitted with an EEG cap to measure the currents flowing through their brains. The test was as non-invasive as possible, even forgoing the use of injected dye commonly used for mapping out the body during MRIs.
  • Isolating Metrics: the MRI measured the levels of oxygen and cerebrospinal fluid — the clear liquid found in the brain and spinal cord — in the brain. This was to better understand their relationship during sleep.

Harrison notes how Dr. Lewis sacrificed her own sleep for science to conduct the late night study, running tests until 3am before sleeping in the next day: “It’s this great irony of sleep research,” Lewis says. “You’re constrained by when people sleep.”

The Findings

Lewis found that during non-REM sleep (also known as deep sleep), the following took place:

  • Neurons synchronize:These specialized cells that transmit impulses start to switch on and off at the same time.
  • Blood flow decreases: When they switch off or “go quiet” they have less need for oxygen and as a result, blood flow to the brain decreases.
  • CSF fills in:  When this happens, cerebrospinal fluid rushes into the added space and washes over the brain in large slow waves.

The results builds off of a previous 2013 study led by neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard that showed toxins like beta amyloid, a potential contributor to Alzheimer’s disease, was cleared out in mice during sleep. Suffice to say sleep is as important for humans as it is for mice.  “[The paper is] telling you sleep is not just to relax,” says Nedergaard. “Sleep is actually a very distinct function.”

The Implications

Harrison notes that this study only focused on non-REM sleep in healthy young adults and not on other sleep cycles and in older people, which means more research is needed. Still, the findings might help improve treatment for conditions such as Alzheimer’s: where previous medications just focused on targeting certain molecules like beta amyloid, understanding the important role cerebrospinal fluid plays means a new path towards other treatments. For one, Nedergaard says, future treatments might emphasize increasing the amount of cerebrospinal fluid washing over the brain.

Where we’re going with this

Even if we don’t have Alzheimer’s, we can’t ignore the important relationship between sleep, healthy brain function and mental health, issues of which are exacerbated by sleep problems especially in those with pre-existing conditions. To add to that, workers in our creative industry are more susceptible to certain issues such as depression.

Even for those who don’t suffer from said issues, it’s unlikely we’ll hear the conclusive end of the debate on how much sleep is good for creativity, with some arguments broadly praising the benefits of less sleep and others suggesting it depends on the type of creative. For that reason, we’re not going to flat-out suggest you get more sleep than you need to feel good nor will we be penning an Analysis titled “Why You Don’t Actually Need to Sleep That Much” anytime soon.

Rather, we take this study as proof of the overall importance of a good night’s sleep, which now that we see how cerebrospinal fluid is involved, could be affectionately (and accurately) called our daily “brain shower.” Just like a real shower, the exact length varies by the individual and you take as long as you need to start/end your day feeling clean, refreshed and creative.

September 23, 2019

The Balance of Time, Meaning and Money


Several studies say that people who value time over money tend to be happier and this seems to also apply to graduates in spite of debt, and independent of socio-economic class. Yet our modern lives show that we can buy back time and the happiness that comes with it. And if both are present how does the concept of “meaning” factor into this?

The Evidence

University of British Columbia researchers asked graduating students how satisfied they felt with their lives over the course of a month. They surveyed the students again a year later. In both surveys, about 62% of them said they valued time more than money, and those people were happier. What’s more, valuing time over money brought double the magnitude of happiness linked to materialism in general and happiness known to accrue from high parental income.

In further research, “People who value time make decisions based on meaning versus money,” says study leader Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “They choose to do things because they want to, not because they have to.”

Although Canadian tuition (and the resulting student debt) isn’t as high as in the United States, the emphasis on time over money does seem to carry over into adulthood and across different countries. A 2016 study of American adults found that they were “happier and more satisfied with life than the people who chose money,” even after accounting for differences in age, income, and the amount of time people spent at work or at leisure.

Another survey from the Pew Research Center asked people to rank various activities based on meaningfulness. The top three? Time with family, friends and time spent outdoors. After that was pets, listening to music, reading, and religion. In eighth place: job or career.

Income Satiation and The $95,000 Threshold

Naturally, it’s too simplistic to conclude we should just drop everything and just “live our best lives.” A lot of us have to put food on the table and sometimes we have to spend money to make money. So how much time and money do we really need?

Well, it differs by the country, but “income satiation” seems to happen between $65,000 and $75,000 for emotional well-being, but for life evaluation (long-term goals as opposed to day-to-day satisfaction), that kicks in at about $95,000. These two thresholds for satisfaction happen later for wealthier regions.

As for time, it’s more complicated. It’s certainly a lot easier to focus on time when we have financial security, but it seems even when we have that, we still feel like we’re short on time and we suffer for it. For North Americans at least, our culture creates a famine of time where the stress of not having enough time to do all the things we want to do is more worse than being out of a job.

To this end, modern conveniences that include the gig economy (as in paying people to do our tasks instead of doing them ourselves) allow us to buy back some of our time — and thus, some of our happiness. In a survey of more than 6,000 people in the United States, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands (including 800 millionaires), those who spent the most on time-saving purchases reported higher levels of life satisfaction.

That said, there’s bound to be yet another ceiling here. Does your lifestyle mean you’re constantly converting time to money back into time, and leaking both in the process? How much of your lifestyle is contingent on “paying to play,” much less “paying to win”? For creative types, this is especially worth considering if we find ourselves excessively needing to convert money to time or worse, the inspiration that fuels our work.

The Key Takeaways

  • “People who value time make decisions based on meaning versus money. They choose to do things because they want to, not because they have to.”
  • Humans adapt to a lot of things including happiness, which is why we can actually reach a cap where more money doesn’t equal more happiness.
  • Money can buy happiness when we pay to free up our time, but only if that time gained back is actually free time.

So assuming you’re generally not satisfied with all things considered, Whilans suggests active leisure and just about anything physical versus passive leisure like just watching TV or giving away our time by volunteering. Whether we choose to do that or not, the idea is to change our perception of our time, one that doesn’t have a dollar or utilitarian value on it. Not only does that free us from feeling “starved” for time, but it could also allow us to do highly meaningful work (creative or otherwise) that we might not get hired to do otherwise. The caveat is that we have to plan ahead for how we spend any free time we suddenly happen upon (for fear it gets filled with something else out of compulsion).

To try and put our complex lives in a nutshell: there’s a strong link between our satisfaction and the balance of a triangle includes time and money on the sides supporting meaning at the top. Modern conveniences mean that we have more options to shuffle and “convert” our resources as we need, but unless we get our reasons in order, we’re less likely to find anything resembling happiness in the long run.

April 18, 2019

Coworking spaces have positively shaped our professional identities

The Harvard Business Review conducted research with WeWork to find how coworking spaces have positive impacts on the workers that use them.

Coworking spaces then and now

Over 14,000 coworking spaces have opened worldwide since the first one appeared in 2005. They provided an environment with the amenities that most dedicated hospitality spaces couldn’t or didn’t provide such as at least power sockets and fast internet.

The concept caught on to the point that other types of businesses, ones that especially need to pay rent and deal with slow periods during the day, began converting to coworking spaces in some aspect. Today, these spaces support the needs of larger organizations, and not necessarily those launching coworking spaces as a retail estate play by providing a more economical location for their remote teams to meet, work and network.

Harvard’s research

Over the past several years, Harvard studied how amenities, branding, aesthetics, and unique cultures created from diverse people and companies working together under one roof impacted individual workers. They found workers benefit coworking spaces more than traditional offices, experiencing greater levels of flexibility and thriving (defined as vitality and learning at work), better networking, and a stronger sense of community.

Their latest study attempts to understand how highly curated coworking cultures impact the professional identities of members and their organizations and to what extent members of these more exclusive coworking spaces identified with the culture of their space and whether this changed how they identified with their company or employer. Here are some quick facts about that study:

  • Conducted with WeWork between 2017-2018 with 1,000 of their new individual members based in the United States
  • 71% worked full-time for companies either located in a WeWork office or used WeWork for remote teams and individuals
  • 29% were business owners, contractors, sole proprietors and part-time workers
  • The surveyed asked members to show their level of agreement with statements like “I have a lot in common with others at WeWork,” and “I have a lot in common with others in my organization.”

The findings

Overall, the study found that members still strongly identify with their work organizations and that the WeWork brand identity doesn’t dilute the identity of the organizations housed in their space. Instead, it suggested that workers are positively impacted when their work environment aligns with their company’s values and brand.

Further, coworking spaces gave some members a sense of community and legitimacy they might not have gotten from working at home or from a coffee shop. What’s more is those with company-subsidized memberships felt that their employers took their needs seriously and valued them as much as non-remote workers.

Devil’s advocate: could coworking spaces become the CrossFit boxes of productivity?

Like the open office layout heralded for breaking down the barriers cubicles built in the Yuppie era, we wonder if coworking spaces could eventually resemble little slices of the heaven we’d associate with massive millennial-friendly corporate HQs like the Googleplex: replete with amenities, an inspirational work culture, interior design from the future but also a potential honey trap in terms of work-life balance.

Like the CrossFit gyms that became popular for their supportive, if addictive fitness cultures, there could be similar consequences to coworking spaces that like gyms, are also membership-based spaces where cultures can begin. Where CrossFit “boxes” whipped tons of people in amazing shape, they also broke a lot of them due to overtraining and improper to downright unsafe exercise practices. Similarly, we know the obvious implications of an office that looks and feels much better than our favorite coffee shop or home.

March 16, 2019

Objects of Interest — Philips Somneo Sleep & Wake Light

Philip Soneo Light Alarm

If you’re anything like us, we value sleep but waking up is hard to do. Philips wants to make your routine less painful through its light alarm clock. Unlike traditional alarms, the Somneo uses light to get you through those dreary winter months and early mornings, improving your circadian rhythm (that way you won’t be too S.A.D.).

How does it work?

The Someno allows you to be naturally woken up. It can be a helpful addition for those who don’t have an abundance of sunlight or face the rising sun. The Somneo ramps up light in your room and peaks at your expected wake up time, simulating a perfect sunrise. Instead of the standard alarm which makes you groggy, the light system ensures you wake up refreshed. Likewise, the alarm also acts in reverse and can simulate a sunset, helping trigger the natural secretion of melatonin to fall asleep.

The Somneo is available now at select retailers globally. Head over to Philips for more information.

March 10, 2019

Why anti-conforming "hipsters" always end up looking the same

MIT Technology Review Hipster

Hipsters often pride themselves on strong opinions, but do they all end up looking the same? We all know a hipster, and if you don’t, it could be you. Taking part in countercultures in order to distinguish oneself from the mainstream is not a new thing, but recent years have seen the rise of the archetypal “hipster.” The butt of many jokes and meme pages, the hipster is a universally understood and mocked character, but do we really understand them? And why do they always wind up looking the same?

“Propagation Delay”

Touboul, a mathematician at the Brandeis University of Massachusetts, conducted a study on anticonformist and concluded that the hipster population undergoes a phase transition. During this transition, members become synchronized with each other, this is an inevitable outcome of the behavior of large numbers of people. In Touboul’s study, the time taken to detect societal change is taken into account: people don’t react instantly to developments, information (like the release of a new shoe) is spread over a period of time, some find out early while others take longer to discover.


By creating a computer model that simulates how agents interact when some follow a majority and the rest oppose it, Touboul investigates how hipsters become synchronized and how this varies as the propagation delay (mentioned in previous paragraph) and number of hipsters change. This model generated complex behaviors, but in general, the population of hipsters initially act randomly before experiencing a phase transition into a synchronized state.


This study is one of the studies you see while scrolling and wonder who took the time to follow it through and why they thought it necessary. Who took the time? Jonathan Touboul. Why was it necessary? It wasn’t. Hipsters are used here as a light-hearted example of a more significant broader picture. Touboul’s model can be applied to much more important cases like understanding synchronization of nerve cells, investment strategies in finance, or emergent dynamics in social science. Perhaps the study would have been more interesting and relevant if he had published the results for any other of the possible applications of the model.

Proving a point

A point was proven when somebody reached out to MIT Technology Review under the belief his image was used for the piece. He mentioned:

“You used a heavily edited Getty image of me for your recent bit of click-bait about why hipsters all look the same. It’s a poorly written and insulting article and somewhat ironically about five years too late to be as desperately relevant as it is attempting to be. By using a tired cultural trope to try to spruce up an otherwise disturbing study. Your lack of basic journalistic ethics and both the manner in which you reported this uncredited nonsense and the slanderous unnecessary use of my picture without permission demands a response and I am of course pursuing legal action.”

MIT and the team went through the checks via Getty to verify the model release and stumbled upon something fascinating. The model had misidentified himself when his name didn’t match that of the model’s name.

March 7, 2019

Real estate magnates to challenge WeWork's continued rise

Since its inception, WeWork flipped the real estate model on its head, transforming traditional work culture in the process. As the change continued, real estate firms began to feel the ensuing pinch. Today, these firms are fighting back hard using one of WeWork’s key tools: technology.

Apps & Data Dominate

As is often a recurring theme, major real estate developers are turning to data solutions that can power new apps, taking a page from WeWork in the process. These apps are designed to enable tenants to make the most out of the premises they occupy, and landlords to optimise services. Broadly speaking, apps enable:

  • Access to the building / guest registry
  • Class booking (e.g: fitness)
  • Food ordering / payments
  • Work orders

Likewise, data collected by landlords provide insights on:

  • User patterns
  • Spikes and anomalies
  • Areas of optimisation

Ultimately, this ecosystem benefits both parties and can enable higher retention rates for landlords in the long-term, securing cash flow over time.

Community Drivers

Beyond data and numbers, real estate developers are using tools to foster a greater sense of community amongst tenants. In fact, they now seek more insights on cultural events that workers would be interested in. In changing their mindset to better accommodate their partners, landlords become community hub creators and enable greater discussions through their own platforms. As these firms speed up their internal changes, WeWork will likely seek to push further to solidify its advantage to counter their competitors’ improvements.

In our experience, this part is the most challenging. Indeed, community in a physical space is no different than running a magazine. You have to understand the demographic, how to speak to them, and how to challenge/solve their pain points. Many competitors entering the space are interested in the idea of building a community. However, their emergence from traditional real estate makes for a challenging transition.

What’s Next For WeWork?

Time will tell if WeWork will continue its dominance in the field. Perhaps the more interesting story is ultimately that real estate firms have learned to adapt much quicker than others when a disrupting firm entered their industries. Most noteworthy and in comparison, Kodak (which actually invented the digital camera) never moved fast enough and ended up losing grip on their industry altogether. Ultimately, this may have been a cautionary tale and a wake-up call for real estate magnates as a whole. Hopefully, this new breed of office space will provide more than just beer and timeboxing techniques.

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