This weekend Good For Nothing held an event called WildThing for documenatary makers Green Lions. Green Lions are working on a film in the mold of Hugh Fearnley (autocorrects to furtively) Whittingstall’s Fish Fight and Chicken Run: campaign TV about bringing kids back to nature. “Do our children have Nature Deficit Disorder?” asks the protagonist, David Bond, in the teaser video on their website. Good For Nothing provided Tea, a tent and about 40 people to try and crack the problem of marketing nature to kids.

I wanted to go, but illness prevented me. I did manage to make it along to the presentation at the end to see what the teams came up with. As ever the amount of work that had been put in was incredible, as ever if you’d wanted to hire the people that willingly volunteered their time on their freelance rate it would have cost a fortune. In two days apps had been published, treehouses built, and amazing “sizzle” tapes for ideas had been shot and edited.

Having never been to a hack day except as a participant, looking in on proceedings was enlightening and not in a wholly good way. I say this as someone who wants to give up my weekends to good causes and frequently bangs the drum for hack days: there was a sense that the process was, ultimately, more about the participants than the kids they were ostensibly trying to help. The hackday format is an amazing thing, but it still seems to me there is _something_ missing which might help it convert from conceptual into concrete more effectively. Discussing this with the participants they felt the same: is it about the culture clash between introvert developers and extrovert ideas people? Or is it a case of getting the skills mix right? Or about refining the briefs?

The whole thing was had a strangely anachronistic New Labour flavor to it. Fitting since we were in walking distance of the Granita Restaurant. We even had a debate about about hunting – was skinning a rabbit all part of the countryside experience, or an aberration in our utopian bucolic past? And the debate about whether competition is ok – should the game apps have competition as an element, or is everyone a winner?

Most of all though, I was uncertain of the premise. David Bond has notionally appointed himself the Marketing Executive of Nature, and briefed the Good For Nothing crew to rebrand the countryside to make it accessible. What could be more Blair era than approaching the untamed wilderness from a marketing perspective?

I like to think of nature as something that sticks two fingers up at human aspirations, particularly ones as flimsy as marketing. The whole point of the outdoors is it’s implacable indifference to what you might want it to be. The more distance we can put between the email, excel and meetings and the great outdoors the better.

In fairness to the teams, most of them addressed this point, and there were plenty of behavioral insights deeper than my idle thoughts.

On a final note, I grew up in the country side and had a field at the bottom of my garden and I was bloody envious of people who didn’t. There was only one person of a similar age to me within walking distance and we didn’t get on. I did have endless fun building rope slides and driving a knackered car round the field, and my experiences have given me a practical understanding of mechanics and electrics that I deeply value. If you live in the countryside there is nothing to do apart from disassemble every electrical item in the house.

I also got very lonely and longed for other kids to play with, and later a pub that wasn’t a 20 minute drive away. There’s a reason the countryside causes incest. In one primary school near me all the children were ginger. Let’s keep this in perspective, for every Islington Dad promising to teach his kids the different types of bird song there is a 14 year old kid disassembling shotgun cartridges and inhaling deodorant out of a sock because there’s bugger all else to do. As they say, the grass is always greener….

 

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