Friday, October 27, 2006

Decoding Genes of Social Behavior in Honey Bees

Researcher Saurab Sinha at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is trying to decode the genes governing social behavior in honey bees. Sinha and colleagues are trying to find the social gene which lets bees change roles in the hive based on social pressure.

Adult bees start by working as nurses of young bees, and will turn into foragers for nectar and pollen when they get older. However, if the hive has a need, some young bees will turn into foragers prematurely. The job transition involves changing thousands of genes in the honey bee's brain, turning some genes off, and others on.

Saurab Sinha and colleagues hope to use the bee gene sequences they discovered as a model of socially triggered role changes in human brains.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Coolhunting for Restaurants in Paris

Recently I was spending a few days in Paris with my children. We were the classical tourists, climbing the Eiffel tower, visiting the chateau de Versailles, and admiring Mona Lisa in the Louvre. We were staying in a middle class hotel in Montmartre. In the evenings, we were coolhunting for good restaurants. To find good value for money, we were applying different strategies. One evening, we were just following the tourist streams. We were ending up on top of Montmartre, near the cathedral of Sacre Coeur. This is the place were all the artists are, selling their paintings, and offering to draw on-the-spot portraits of the tourists. The place is also chock full with tourist restaurants. We ended up in one of them. The food was ok – it is hard to get really bad food in Paris – but the price was not cheap, 70 Euros, for a decent meal for three. The next day we decided to follow the recommendation of our hotel owner, and eat in his favorite. The restaurant Basilic offered excellent food, at a reasonable price, 86 Euros for a meal of three. We ended up sitting besides two Germans, however, who were grumbling the entire evening that they could not get a decent beer at this restaurant. That we understood everything they were saying in German did not make it any better: It seems the restaurant Basilic is recommended to many other tourists. The third evening, we decided to follow our own instincts. We wandered around in Montmartre, peeking at many restaurants. In the end we found one which was quite small, but also quite full, mostly with locals. It turned out this was an excellent choice. We had a great meal in the restaurant “Villa de Poulot”, at a cost of 45 Euros.
Reflecting back, it occurred to me that we had done nothing else but coolhunted for the best restaurant. The first day, when we ended up in a tourist trap, we had followed the marketing hype. The next day, in the excellent but pricey restaurant, we had followed the advice of the expert. But the best experience we got in the third restaurant, when we followed the swarm – the locals and our own instincts – to the little corner restaurant. It pays to listen to the swarm.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Coolhunting through Starbucks

Today’s New York Times describes how Starbucks branches out from selling Mocha’s, Latte, and Espresso to becoming an arbiter and recommender of other items of good taste. It has successfully sold for quite some time compilations of music Cds. It is now extending this concept to movies and books. So far this seems to work quite well. People who are attracted to Starbuck’s atmosphere fall into a certain category, and branching out from premium-blend coffee to premium-blend entertainment seems to be a natural next step. Starbucks is trying to cater to a core group of customers with average age 42 and average income of $90,000.

Starbucks is now even considering publishing its own books and movies to cater to this audience – socially relevant, and with a human connection. For an artist, selling records at Starbucks can be a real booster. For example, since selling her album “Careless Love” at Starbucks, Madeleine Peyroux’s CD sales have tripled. According to customers, at Starbucks “some people of caring hearts and minds have looked at this and felt it was worthwhile and beneficial and would create a good vibe in the world.”
For Starbucks, it is all about finding those artists who are not yet mainstream, but about to make it, and convey an emotional connection - they are cool!

Starbucks just has to take care not to become premium bland!