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Cool Cousin and the future of travel

Cool Cousin and the future of travel

‘Cool Cousin’ and the future of travel

By Alex Hill for Box News

TripAdvisor used to brand itself as the “World’s most trusted travel site”. Yep, that actually happened. To put this claim in proportion, that’s a bit like Cambridge Analytica describing itself as the “World’s most trusted consulting firm”. Or me describing myself as the “World’s most trusted semi-detached house”. It’s just not true. 


TripAdvisor has consistently been at the centre scandal. From the Cornish hotel that bribed guests to write good reviews, to the non-existent restaurant—‘The Shed at Dulwich’—that, thanks to a Vice journalist, ended up at the top of TripAdvisor’s rankings for restaurants in London. 


Eventually, TripAdvisor executives stopped finding their trademark delightfully ironic so in 2013. After a string of lawsuits, they changed their tagline to a more modest boast—the “World’s largest travel site”.

The power of anonymity

Fundamentally, the problem with TripAdvisor is that it gives too much power to the anonymous traveller. Anyone can post reviews (or be paid to post reviews) and, in that process, potentially harm an entire city’s tourist industry.

Here at Box News, we look into problems like these. Issues of corruption, misinformation and mismanagement. And, then we keep an eye out for the people who want to bring about change.

We spoke to Cool Cousin, a new travel tech venture, who reckon they offer something unique. Let’s find out.

Long lost relatives or close relations

On the Cool Cousins app, users can connect with locals (“Cousins”) who show off their favourite places to eat, drink, dance, and whatever-verb-is-used-for-walking-slowly-through-a-gallery.

All the Cousins have a profile telling you how old they are, what they do, and then shows their map—their unique guide to their city. If you have questions, you can message the Cousin, and they’ll get back to you within 24 hours.

Locals helping you to unlock the secrets of the city

Callum Hale-Thomson, Cool Cousins’s Head of Business Development, explained to me why their app keeps travellers happy.

“We live in a world of information overload. We’re constantly being bombarded by websites like TripAdvisor, Yelp,” Callum said. “All we want is to be guided, and to be given something that’s super relevant to us and has not been driven by corporate interests.”

In other words, we want the advice of someone who can unlock a city for us. We want a local’s perspective.

“You want to be guided by your Cousin because you trust them, on an emotional and personal level, and you’d like to think they’re not going to rip you off.”

“It’s why all of our descriptions aren’t just recommendations of a place, it explains why the local goes there, and what they do there.”

More than just a travel guide

Cool Cousin isn’t just for the benefit of travellers. They also want to help out locals.

Callum explains:

“We’re seeing huge amounts of over-tourism in cities. Look at Barcelona: there’s marches saying, ‘Refugees welcome. Tourists go home.’ La Rambla – it’s full of tourist traps. Whereas, we might tell you that 15 minutes away, there’s a fantastic tapas bar and that’s been run by the same family for 100 years. You can go there, it’ll be cheaper, and you’ll be supporting the local economy. And our cousins will tell you how to behave there, what to order, and how to be respectful.”

It seems that the locals are loving it …

“Locals are so willing to be those cultural ambassadors, not for any financial gain. I was shocked when I discovered that our cousins love to reply to messages. People want a say in how their city is appreciated. What we’re trying to do is give those locals a voice and let them say, ‘Look, this is my city and how I live my life and this is how you can be part of that life.'”

Continual learning is an ecosystem

Continual learning is an ecosystem

Continual learning is an ecosystem

By Alasdair Munn for Box News

It’s fair to say that most of us understand that the nature of work is changing. AI and automation are heralding a new dawn in the way we work. The ability to be adaptive, ask the right questions, and to apply critical thinking is becoming just as important as the sum of the knowledge we hold in our brains.

The way we are learning needs to change

Although we say things like ‘learning is a lifelong pursuit”, the way we structure workplace learning is reactive. As jobs are continually evolving, we need to adapt, re-skill and up-skill all the time. 

Applied learning throughout our careers is becoming essential. And, as we begin to implement human plus machine, where we focus more on what it is to be human at work, personalised learning journeys become essential.

Learning is a team sport

Yet learning is not an individual responsibility, and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Companies are understanding more and more their investment in training has to translate into directed learning.

It makes sense to recruit people who have the right aptitudes towards adaptation, communication and learning and then skill them towards companies’ changing needs. We hear a lot from companies who say ‘Our people make us who we are’. But, much of recruitment is still centred on skills before people and then spending resources to make those people ‘our people’.

This may have made sense in an environment of slow or static change, but as the nature of work evolves, this recruitment strategy will become less effective.

Training as an ecosystem

Training can no longer be an added layer, brought in to fix a broken system. Learning, up-skilling, re-skilling and empowering employees has to be part of an extended ecosystem. It needs to be embedded into and informed by the entire organisation.

When we talk about personalised learning journeys, we don’t mean people in a vacuum; we mean the individual AND the organisation.

‘Personalised learning’ means specific to the needs, learning preferences, skills, gaps, competencies of the individual. We think of this in relation to the learning outcomes and objectives that have been identified by the organisation.

Seeing learning differently

This is an approach that we at Box Media take towards developing our workplace content and the environment in which it lives. As capabilities grow and we leave behind legacy systems, we will see the relationship between content, individual, purpose, objectives and skill development grow closer together. 

This approach extends beyond the immediate employee-employer relationship. Imagine a world where you can apply this to your recruitment strategy. A genuine focus on people can attract the right people for your business and allow them to develop the attributes your business needs before they start day one. 

We love what Workbay are doing as an example of creating connected ecosystems in recruitment.

It is an exciting time. Change brings disruption, but disruption allows us the opportunity to focus on getting the fundamentals right as we apply the inevitable new processes to our businesses.

Taking the time to talk about mental health

Taking the time to talk about mental health

Talking of Mental Health

By Alex Hill for Box News

There’s good news and bad news in Accenture’s recent report on mental health in the workplace. 

The bad news first

The sheer scale of the problem is even more significant than we had previously thought. Two-thirds of UK workers have reported personal experience of mental health challenges, and 85 per cent say that someone close to them has.

“We’re used to hearing that one in four people experience mental health challenges,” said Barbara Harvey, mental health lead for Accenture’s business in the UK, “yet our research shows that the number of people affected is in fact far higher.” The closer we look at the problem of mental health, the larger it appears.

… but there is good news too

It seems that the taboo around talking about mental health is loosening its grip. 82 per cent of those surveyed said they were more willing to speak openly about mental health issues now than they were just a few years ago.

Thanks to a variety of campaigns, and the efforts of many individuals, people are increasingly ready to talk about their mental health.

Kind of …

You see, the survey also reports some hesitations.

Of those who had faced a personal mental health crisis, the majority (61 per cent) had not spoken to anyone about their issue. So, the taboo around talking seems to be disappearing, but people are still struggling to open up.

Things are improving, but there’s still a long journey ahead

As a society, it seems, we’ve got much better at talking about how we ought to talk about mental health, but we’re still struggling to—well—talk about mental health. Put another way, most of us now know that it’s OK to talk, but we’re still not sure what to say. (Or, crucially, how to listen.)

Our friend Geoff McDonald, co-founder of Minds@Work, can help us here. And if you haven’t already, then make sure to watch his TED Talk. 

Geoff speaks openly about his own mental health and thoughtfully about the mental health of others. In his talk, he proposes two concrete steps for improving mental health in the workplace. 

Firstly, he tells us, “we need influential people to tell their stories.” And, secondly, “we need leaders to invest in training everybody in mental health.”

Taking part, and being part of the solution

At Box Media, we believe we can be a part of this next step. The eradication of the stigma around mental health is starting to happen, and now we want to help people to know what to say; how to start those conversations; how to listen properly and speak kindly.

We’re ready to talk; now it’s time to figure out what to say.

Towards a future, With purpose

Towards a future, With purpose

Towards a future, with purpose

By Alex Hill for Box News

If the headlines and Twitter feeds of the world are getting you down at the moment, I have the perfect antidote: a trip to the website of our friends at Unreasonable Group. 

Fighting the good fight, and choosing the right allies

Unreasonable is a Venture Capitalist (VC) organisation. They only work with entrepreneurs who are, as they put it, ‘bending history in the right direction.’ Put another way; they work with people who are passionate about solving the world’s problems.

They work with folks like:

  • Jayaashree Industries, who have created the first low-cost machines to make sanitary pads in India
  • Embrace Innovations, whose infant warmers are estimated to have saved the lives of over 300,000 babies across 22 countries
  • Econic Technologies, whose catalyst technologies convert CO2 into materials for plastic production 

Businesses need to think differently

In the last ten years, Unreasonable realised something that the rest of the business world today is only just waking up to – business shouldn’t exist separately from the world’s social problems.

Business has both an opportunity and a duty to engage with problems like climate change and gender inequality to drive serious social impact.

If businesses don’t engage with social impact, they’ll find themselves in danger of being left behind by their customers. Many customers today, particularly Millenials, look to businesses that take on social responsibilities.

If you don’t like statistics then look away now

Deloitte’s Millenial Survey 2018 found that 40% of Millenials believe that the goal of business should be to ‘improve society’. 

Similarly, a 2015 Nielsen poll found that consumers are increasingly seeking out products that are clean and responsible. 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, and a full 73% of Millenials are.

Box Media is looking to the future, too

At Box Media, our drive is reskilling for purpose. We have set our sights on a future of human collaboration with machines (rather than a future of mass unemployment). 

We have an opportunity to work towards a future that we build on solving some of our most significant problems. To reach that preferred future, we know that our workforce will need to adapt and develop many new skills. 

This sense of purpose is what motivates us; it gets us out of bed and into the office every day. What is the social impact of your business? If you can’t come up with an answer, it might be time for a rethink.



The costs of re-skilling

The costs of re-skilling

Understanding the cost of re-skilling

By Alasdair Munn for Box News

We are entering the fourth industrial revolution. Adaptive processes, automation, machine learning and AI are fundamentally changing the nature of work. Much of the recent conversation is around the dual crisis of future skills gaps and the need to re-skill employees.

Change has to happen

Companies that resist change will be superseded by new entrants into the market, or by those companies that do change.

Disruptions in the job market means some jobs will be lost, or cease to exist, while these changes will also create new posts – some of which we haven’t even thought of yet. As with any change, or venture into the unknown, there is trepidation and uncertainty. Nevertheless, we also know that the way we work and consume today is unsustainable.

We have a responsibility to our people

Our workforces are facing a mental health crisis. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to manage these changes carefully.

As the repetitive tasks developed over the last 30 years are automated, we have the chance to give humans the chance to focus on ‘being human’.

‘Soft skills’ are now being rebranded as ‘crucial skills’. The saving grace for humans and the future of work is precisely what makes us different from robots—our humanity.

It is these skills that will improve our mental health at work. Skills like creativity, complex problem solving, empathy, judgement and cognitive flexibility are what sets us apart from machines. Moreover, a lack of these skills in the workplace can lead to increased stress, depression and poor mental health.

A world where man and machine work in harmony – but at what cost?

As we move towards a workplace that is increasingly more man plus machine, there is a mounting need to re-skill, up-skill and fill skills gaps. 

An interesting theme emerging amongst business leaders and educators include the questions:

  • Who is to bear the costs of this re-skilling? 
  • What is sustainable for an organisation? 
  • Is it the government? Is it the individual? 

A recent report from The World Economic Forum states:

 ‘Towards a Reskilling Revolution” found that 95% of the 1.4 million US workers who are expected to be displaced in the next decade can be transitioned to new positions with similar skills and higher wages. 

 But, the total cost of re-skilling all these workers is $34 billion – an average of $24,000 per displaced worker.

As a direct cost, this looks pretty daunting. But, we all know that education, re-skilling and up-skilling can’t be seen only in the context of the cost of training. 

There are other questions we need to answer. What is the cost to the company for not re-skilling? Productivity, employee welfare, workplace accidents, customer satisfaction, and competitive advantage can all be affected.

What is the cost to society when looking at the increased need for welfare, crime, family disruption, citizen unrest?

Asking the hard questions for a brighter future

The fundamental question we need to ask today is: ‘what is the future we want to live in and how do we get there?’

It’s a tough question for companies when they’re often under significant pressure from shareholders to make short-term gains and returns. The average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company has dropped from 58 years to just 18 years. Business is getting harder, but it’s this focus on short-term thinking that is contributing towards this shrinking lifespan.

Taking responsibility through new ways of learning

Responsibility for this learning inevitably lies in a combined and collaborative approach involving all stakeholders from corporations, governments, educational institutions, and innovate new methods.

The future is about connected ecosystems, collaboration and shared thinking.

It’s an exciting time to be asking these questions. Here at Box Media, we’ve been tackling these questions over the last two years.

We’re taking this opportunity to hack learning. We want to reimagine not only what we need to learn to remain relevant in a future workforce, but also how learning itself needs to change.

Workplace learning is seldom fit for purpose today, and it’s certainly not fit for purpose for tomorrow.

Finally, we have a convergence of need, technology, human understanding, data and content production. We are excited and determined to play our role in shaping a responsible and sustainable future.

We are excited and determined to play our role in shaping a responsible and sustainable future.

Shaping our future, responsibly

Shaping our future, responsibly

Shaping our future, responsibly

By Alasdair Munn for Box News

We recently read an article in the New York Times titled The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite. This topic is undoubtedly getting a lot of media attention. For the past two years, Box Media has been focusing on the future of work, specifically the real need to re-skill a workforce in the wake of automation, AI and the changing work landscape.

We find this article a little alarmist. Perhaps because we’ve been looking at this topic for a while … 

Looking to, and planning for, the future

As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, automation and intelligent systems will start to replace existing jobs. We will quickly find ourselves with a skills shortage for these new roles. We’re going to have an uncomfortable time of both job losses and skills shortages. 

 Businesses will struggle to adapt, and there will be real hardships for people who find themselves without work or the means to adapt, re-skill and refocus.

 To refer to this as a ‘hidden agenda’ thought up by greedy elite capitalists, as the New York Times did, is a little reductive and not entirely helpful. As this Forbes article points out “Over the past six decades, the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has plunged from 58 years to 18 years.” 

For businesses today, staying put and not adapting is not an option. Companies have to adapt, and they have to disrupt, or newcomers will enter and do the adapting and disruption for them. The path towards automation and adaptive processes is set. Work, as we know it, will transform and be redefined. Businesses will seek out new ways of gaining efficiencies and advantages from technology.

Asking the right questions

We shouldn’t be blaming business for the hardship. Instead, we should be asking ‘how do we minimise or mitigate the hardship’?

How do we prepare for this transformation? What is the most effective way to re-skill and refocus our workforce? How do we create systems, processes and content that not only address these issues today but continues to address them in 5, 10, or 15 years?


These are big questions, ones we have been working on over the last few years. We don’t have all the answers, but we do know that the actions we take today are the ones that are shaping our future.

We are all, collectively, responsible for working towards a preferred future. One which is equitable, sustainable, fair and just. Now is the time for affirmative and meaningful action, not sensationalism and despair.

Interview with Paul Daugherty, Accenture

Interview with Paul Daugherty, Accenture

Interview with Paul Daugherty, Accenture

by Alasdair Munn for Box News

Our CEO, Clare Munn interviews Accenture’s Chief Technology and Information Officer, Paul Daugherty about AI and the future of work. Here are the highlights from a longer interview that took place at the Turing Institute in London

Turing Institute breakfast

Turing Institute breakfast

Turing Institute breakfast

Topic Future of Work / Imagining work in the age of AI

By Alasdair Munn for Box News

Box News were invited to film at a Turing Institute breakfast where their Chief Executive Officer, Sir Alan Wilson and Dr Adrian Weller Programme Director for Artificial Intelligence at The Alan Turing Institute hosted a panel of speakers including Paul Daugherty, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of Accenture. The topic was Future of Work / Imagining work in the age of AI.