Monday 20 April 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 20/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Horn of plenty

People used to say that everyone had a novel in them. Today many believe that it’s a business that will hurtle them from dull obscurity to professional and personal stardom instead. It’s always struck me as oddly poetic that those one-in-a-billion firms, the sort that achieve vast valuations from nowhere, are called “unicorns”. Because – at the risk of putting too fine a point on it – they’re not very common.

Yes, entrepreneurship is the order of the day. But many of the ideas I hear floated by would-be “founders” sound more like punchlines than serious pitches. At Monocle we’ve always been sceptical of this sort of braggadocio and much more interested in the canny companies that make things with integrity; that are built to last rather than being flipped and forgotten. This could mean a craftsman who kept the supply chain simple or a bank that invested in, rather than withdrew, from the folks it served.

So, naturally, it’s advice on building these sorts of companies that you’ll find in The Entrepreneurs, our handbook for better business, which is out this week and available to order here. Inside, you’ll find practical advice about staying resilient in tough times, lessons learnt and tips from business leaders who’ve been through the mill. We might not all have a novel in us but we can all aspire to work with people and firms that do the right thing: to build companies on principles rather than fairy tales. There’s the happy ending – and not a unicorn in sight.

Image: Shutterstock

Business / USA

Preparing for arrivals

Boeing is resuming production of commercial aircraft in the Seattle-area today after a three-week factory shutdown due to coronavirus – and the company is expecting 27,000 employees to return by the end of the week. As the first major US company to reopen its workplace, Boeing will have to show that it can keep returning employees safe: they will be required to wear masks, while shifts will be staggered and production floors marked to encourage physical distancing. It’s part of a delicate balance: the White House insists that some areas are ready to ease restrictions – and protesters gathered across the US to oppose lockdowns this weekend. But many public-health experts warn that the country still doesn’t have the required testing capacity to effectively monitor and prevent further outbreaks of the virus. As other nations consider loosening stay-at-home orders and resuming manufacturing in the coming weeks, Boeing’s restart will be monitored closely.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Hong Kong

Calm before the storm

The coronavirus outbreak might have forced pro-democracy protesters off Hong Kong’s streets but it would be wrong to mistake their apparent silence for contentment. Last week, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong called for the passing of controversial national-security laws to tackle radical violence, foreign interference and pro-independence forces in the region – a move that’s likely to incense protesters further and make their comeback all the more explosive.

“The spirit is still there,” said Antony Dapiran, author of City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong, during an online discussion on the evolution of protest held by Chatham House on Friday. “The issues haven’t been resolved and the anxieties about Beijing’s influence remain. The city has done a good job in containing the virus but a lack of institutional trust means that people aren’t crediting the government for it. All the ingredients are there for protests to emerge when the time is right.”

Image: Getty Images

Transport / London

Road safety

As of today, buses in the UK capital will be made free and only accessible from the middle rather than the front doors in a bid to protect drivers from coronavirus. The new system comes into effect as Transport for London (TFL) grapples with a growing number of deaths among its frontline workers. Vital for healthcare and other key sectors to maintain services, public transport has been scaled back but kept running in cities all over the world. Yet regular close contact with high-risk frontline health workers is taking its toll. In New York, for example, about 60 transport workers have died, while US transport union ATU has recorded another 25 or so fatalities nationwide. Creative measures to safeguard these unsung heroes of our cities are welcome. But to be truly effective, they should also be coupled with proper healthcare and financial benefits for those who do get ill, such as TFL’s enhanced sick-pay programme.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Singapore

Vital signs

City dwellers have become familiar with new patterns emerging amid the urban sprawl in recent weeks, adding to the regular road markings and other signage. Singapore, in particular, has been creative in adopting tape and other indicators to demarcate space and keep residents mindful of physical-distancing guidelines. What’s most remarkable about these temporary markers – mapping out the invisible dance of absent feet along the pavement or in shops – is the way in which people have responded. “We’re so used to being able to walk in and out of a shop that we don’t usually think anything about it,” says Mike Lydon, a specialist in temporary urban interventions. “What’s interesting about these ‘spacers’ is that, for the most part, people are respecting them.” In other words, while their distribution signposts spaces in which city dwellers used to gather unthinkingly (and freely), they also delineate a newfound – and welcome – sense of civic concern.

Image: Cozy Tomato

M24 / Eureka

At-home fitness

With gyms closed for now, it’s a great time for at-home fitness platforms to connect with people. We spoke to Hydrow founder Bruce Smith and to Jason de Savary of London boutique gym Core Collective.

Monocle Films / Global

Reporting the Arctic

The Canadian Arctic is undoubtedly one of the more inhospitable places on Earth but take a look and you’ll see there is a trove of stories to be told about the vast and varied landscape.


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