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Early February (circa the eighth of the month) is about the time of year when many wake up, stare at the ceiling and take stock of the first few weeks of the new year. In bedrooms from Brussels to Melbourne, Panama City to Dubai, millions will mentally retrace their steps through the opening days of January, they’ll scan the pages of their diaries, they’ll relive presentations and business meetings and, somewhere along this journey, many will ask a very simple question: what the hell am I doing in this deadbeat, unrewarding job?
Some might choose to roll over and hope that a few extra hours in bed will bring about a change of heart and they’ll wake up in an improved frame of mind. Some will perhaps reach for the bedside table and find some medication to ease their mood. And others (perhaps the more sensible of the lot) will jump to the next question: so what the hell am I going to do about it?
A few will assess their current gig and hope they can march into the office on Monday and course-correct their career, while others will drag themselves out of bed, pour a bath and settle in for a bit of steamy, aromatic brainstorming. Best results will probably be achieved by those who pull on their running gear and hit the street for a sweaty session of dreaming and scheming along their favourite route.
Some will argue that swimming or yoga are better for finding inspiration and life’s big answers but I’ve always found swimming very limiting, as the scenery doesn’t really change all that much, and there’s always the issue of having to monitor your breathing while trying to record everything. As for yoga, the idea of being stationary in various positions does little for the whole notion of moving one’s life forward. Out on the pavement, passing buildings, traffic, signs and sounds, all absorbed at speed, is ideal for sharpening the mind and stimulating a bit of creative career thinking.
As you round the park, zero in on some everyday scenes and ask how they might be improved. Do the couple getting out of their car ahead of you need a new solution for keeping their dogs and children in check? Perhaps a hybrid pram, powered by the hounds. Feeling thirsty at the end of your 5K run? Why isn’t there a little van catering to runners and selling cooling towels and essential refreshments? At the time of writing this column in Tokyo, the Japanese food group Kagome has started to cater to runners with tomatoes sold from a vending machine at the start/finish of one of the city’s major running routes. The company claims tomatoes are excellent for fighting fatigue and has gone on a big pre-marathon campaign.
More ideas will definitely be conjured during the course of a weekend run or two. Of course, not everyone is born with the “spot the opportunity” gene, so for inspiration here are a few inspired businesses spotted on my recent travels:
Pizza on the beach Those who have always wanted to launch their own food venture but don’t have the capital to secure a lease might want to take a page from the clever Argentines who run a wood-fired pizza truck that pulls up beachside at Oneroa Beach, Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Dragonfired serves an array of pizzas with excellent dough. Not only does the whole operation get around many problems with licensing and assorted overheads, it also has the ability to show up at festivals, follow the sun and, perhaps most importantly, easily scale up if the business properly takes off.
Record store/restaurant One of the best retail businesses I have come across is the little Conch Records enclave in Ponsonby, Auckland. It is a mixture of CDs, vinyl, good coffee and excellent food served in a tiny covered courtyard. Having gradually spread the risk by moving from physical music to excellent food, Conch is a business I’ve always thought should spread around the Pacific Rim and beyond.
Signature sandwiches Developing a business that creates a climate for pilgrimages is always a good thing. The very simple concept behind Hey Meatball involves ground meat, homemade sodas and jolly staff who look like they’re the biggest consumers of their product. On any day of the week, you will find international visitors who make the trek to Little Italy in Toronto for meatball sandwiches or other dishes.
A micro-market Take one empty parking lot, a host of food vans, tents and huts and create the type of micro-market that, in Aoyama, Tokyo, has become a temporary hub for a neighbourhood dominated by national chains and global luxury brands. 246 Common is so simple and could be rolled out just about anywhere.
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