If you’ve found yourself on tech websites, then you’re familiar with those cute videos demonstrating the latest products: young, modern people happily using whatever the company is selling while cheery music plays in background.

Nootrobox, a nine-month old startup, has a video on its website that’s intent on showing why its line of “smart drugs” is different from anything else that’s come along.

This video focuses on a man at his computer, working intensely, headphones on. “You realized a while ago that nothing is magic,” an unseen narrator says. “That every big accomplishment is just a dream.”

Near the end of the video, he gulps down a little pill. It’s not magic, and won’t take him from zero to 100, but it gives him the focus he needs to get back to work.

The video was directed by co-founder Michael Brandt, who also moonlights as an adjunct professor in the advertising department at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In fact, his students helped him create the video. “It wasn’t a matter of giving back,” he says. “They’re just all so good.”

Brandt and co-founder Geoffrey Woo created the pills, which they call “nutrients for your brain.” The two-person startup is intent on setting itself apart in the nootropics (or dietary supplements) industry.

Brandt understands the immense amount of trust that its customers are putting in Nootrobox.

“If Google or Apple came out with a pill tomorrow,” he says, “I think a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily trust it, and those are super trustworthy brands. People are eating something—it’s a really intimate relationship. The fact that people have trusted us so much, and told their friends, has been delightfully surprising.”

So, imagine a society full of Bradley Coopers. In a recent op-ed in TechCrunch, Woo and Brandt have laid out their vision: “We’re not talking about Limitless where Bradley Cooper takes a super drug and gets unique mental prowess. Intelligence is a network effect. Imagine the new forms of interaction, social relationships, and productivity that we don’t yet comprehend.”

Right now, Nootrobox offers two products: Rise and Sprint. Rise is the standard-bearer, the holder of the brand. Brandt says it improves your memory, stamina, and motivation. If Rise is the day-to-day, the Honda Civic of dietary supplements, then Sprint is the McLaren racer. It is supposed to move you in a way that Red Bull or any other high-caffeine drink don’t. Brandt calls it a “better cup of coffee” and also “very soothing.”

Perhaps the way Nootrobox differs from the quick-energy fixes out there is that it isn’t a quick-energy fix. It’s a system. And systems don’t change you. You change because you adopt the system. It’s a mindset that’s becoming increasingly common among those who don’t want to take no for an answer in business, and it’s the type of thinking that Nootrobox helps, quite literally, to foster.

After completing his last treatment for stage-four throat cancer in 2009, Michael Hayes, a serial entrepreneur with a software-engineering background, spent years thinking, How can I use software to solve problems in the real world?

The problems he was most interested in solving were the big ones—cancer prevention, detection, and cure. But it wasn’t until around 2012, when breakthroughs in machine-learning made it possible for computers to read massive amounts of medical-records data, that Hayes began to see the role software could play in cancer care. In 2018, Hayes founded the nonprofit research organization CancerAI, a member at WeWork 625 Massachusetts Ave in Boston that aims to break down the walls between organizations and across sectors to bring the results seen in experimental research to the real world.

Removing the barriers in communication, says Hayes, is key to developing the artificial intelligence needed to improve cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. “In some ways, everyone who develops cancer has a unique case,” he says. “That makes fighting cancer extremely daunting, which is why collaboration amongst different cancer-fighting groups is so important.”

Hayes and CancerAI had a seat at the table this past fall, when WeWork and the Biden Cancer Initiative (BCI), a nonprofit founded by former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, launched their “collaboration hubs” in cities across the country. The aim: to make sure that every person, no matter where they are in their cancer journey, has a voice in the fight against the disease.

CancerAI is a founding member of the collaboration hub in Boston, and in the organization’s first session, members of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Broad Institute were present.

“It was small, it was the first step, but there was a lot of interest in the collaboration in the Boston area,” says Hayes.

These hubs—which have expanded to New York City and San Francisco—broaden what is normally a one-sided conversation to include stakeholders or members of the community who would not normally be involved in decision-making.

“It’s incredibly important to get perspectives beyond CEOs of top pharmaceutical companies,” says Catharine Young, BCI senior director of science policy. “Whether it’s a nurse or a caretaker, they all bring with them a wealth of knowledge.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Rahul Remanan, who has hosted sessions associated with BCI for years, led a collaboration hub at WeWork 750 Lexington Ave on New York’s Upper East Side. At the gathering of about 70 professionalsmostly technologists and health-care practitioners—Remanan, who is trained as a doctor and founder of the full-stack AI firm Moad Computer, focused on the idea of open data systems used in early cancer detection.

“I want to reach out to as many people as possible around [the technology] because I know I can’t do it on my own,” says Remanan, who shared his collected data before discussing the lessons and range of challenges of using artificial intelligence in cancer detection.

The push for shared data in medical research is a departure from tradition with a huge potential payoff: The hope is that if these technologies become successful on a wide scale, the highest-quality cancer care can become available to everyone. The software systems Remanan and Hayes hope to build can help doctors by flagging high- and low-priority images, greatly increasing the likelihood of getting a diagnosis for the people who need it most, no matter where they live or their socioeconomic levels.

“[We would] have an efficiency that’s accessible to anyone from across the world,” he explained. “You don’t have to pay more and more money to get quality care.”

“The future is here—it’s just unevenly distributed,” says Koios Medical CEO Chad McClennan, an AI medical-image-analysis platform approved by the FDA that analyzes the data in images and notifies physicians when something in an image, often naked to the human eye, looks suspicious.

This virtual second opinion can level the playing field for patients everywhere. Accuracy goes up, fewer people are sent home mistakenly, and fewer people are subject to treatment that turns out to be unnecessary. Koios, a member at New York’s WeWork 500 7th Ave, has half a million images linked to pathology results and is currently deployed with about 50 physicians in the New York area. “You have an expert’s second opinion at your disposal instantly and ubiquitously,” says McClennan, who is currently planning a hackathon at a collaboration hub.  

The future that McClennan speaks of can be available to everyone—regardless of geographic location or income—only if the fight against cancer extends across silos and disciplines.

“It’s hard and it takes time, but I’m optimistic that it will happen,” Hayes says. “Within a couple of years, some of these [software] tools will be quite prevalent in making a big difference in the fight against cancer.”

Photo courtesy of iStock

I’ve always had this theory that money can “feel” different, depending on where it comes from. That the money you get for grinding out paid work for a company has a different energy than the money you get for your true-blue creative-soul work (if you’re able to get paid for that work at all).

But there are many artists and creatives who make a strong case to the contrary. A group of them came together recently to discuss the intersection between art and commerce at a panel co-hosted by WeWork x BRIC at WeWork 81 Prospect St in Brooklyn, New York. They shared what it means to be a working artist in today’s world, how corporate work can inspire a richer artistic practice, and the trick to maintaining your ethical center when a company is footing the bill.

Every bit of making feeds the beast.

“I’m lucky I get to make art every day,” says Mike Perry, a multidisciplinary artist and illustrator. To Perry, there is no line between “art for them” and “art for me”—rather, all the work he does feeds his daily practice. “I love an assignment because I’m free to explore, learn something, experiment with new materials and ideas,” he says. “I can be influenced by something I’m paid for.” Perry says he can sit down at 7 a.m. and work on a project for T-Mobile for five hours, then turn to his tackle box of oil paints in the afternoon to create something entirely for himself.

This conversation goes way back.

The Baltimore-based street artist-cum-muralist Gaia is quick to point out that art has been dependent on commerce for centuries. Drawing a strict boundary between what is “real” art and what is paid for by someone else doesn’t add much to the conversation, he says—and if taking commissions allows the artist to focus on their work and put food on the table while remaining in touch with the real world and engaging with audiences, why shouldn’t they?

Panelists (from left) Mike Perry, Devin Vermeulen, Gaia, and Chelsea Campbell with moderator and WeWork’s vice president of content and campaigns Laura Brounstein (center).

Boundaries spark creativity.

As a creative director at Pandora, Chelsea Campbell works within some of the strictest borders of all: 30-second audio ads. “Constraints make for better creation and better creativity,” she says, noting that the ad can play to the listener’s “theater of the mind”.

Money affords bigger, better projects.

If someone will pay you to go bigger—and let you learn how to do it in the process—could you turn it down? “Scale is hard, and money makes scale happen,” says Perry. Money also allows projects to expand and grow. At Pandora, the algorithm is so good at predicting what music listeners will enjoy because musicologists work behind the scenes categorizing each song by up to 400 traits. This form of creativity is born from technology funded by a corporation … but it trickles down to a pleasurable user experience. When Pandora uncovers your new favorite song, you’re not thinking “What a smart technology company,” but instead, “Wow, they know me so well.”

Ethics drive compatibility.

Finding a brand or company whose mission aligns with yours as an artist is critical to a successful collaboration. When Devin Vermeulen, a senior creative director at WeWork, asks an artist to create a mural for a WeWork location, the project isn’t just in service of the brand. He’s going to them “because we like what they do and want the project to align with their mission,” he says. “We want to see success as a byproduct of having an impact on the world.”

Every project needs to please stakeholders.

Any creative project comes with different voices telling the artist what to do—and that doesn’t change whether it’s a corporate gig or a mural on a street corner. Gaia says it’s important to build consensus among competing agendas and what each person expects to see. “My job is to synthesize and find a balance” between everyone, he says, whether that’s a hotel manager with specific needs for an installation, or a grandmother living on the corner in Baltimore who has expectations for the art that should be on her street.

“Selling out” is different for everyone.

Perry noted a recent uptick in the use of the phrase “selling out,” which he says peaked in the early 2000s and now seems to be coming back around. Perhaps that’s a function of a robust economy—more companies have the ability to commission artistsas more people are ditching the 9-to-5 and identifying as artists and creatives.

But when a brand and an artist want to work together and their missions align, there’s no harm done, says Vermeulen. Campbell put a fine point on it: “Sellout has turned into collaboration.” It’s the artist’s prerogative to decide what “selling out” means for them—if it means anything at all. Getting paid by a corporation may allow them to live their dream in another capacity.

The blur can be good.

Perry recounted creating a giant 80-by-30-foot mural for Jameson whiskey. People on Instagram loved it, and he was confused—It’s an ad, he thought, They all love an ad?! Finally, someone told him, “Mike, we’re just really happy you got a job!”

The public is often less concerned with the distinction between art and commerce than one would think, especially if the merger gives rise to something better. As Vermeulen said: “If I’m going to be bombarded by an ad, I’m glad it’s done by an artist.”

For all the blurring of art and commerce, Perry said something that rang in my ears after the night was over. “Maybe,” he says, “we should think about ourselves as humans and people and not brands at all.”

Photos by Lori Gutman

As the space between work and not-work becomes ever more blurred, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at for 30 or 40 or 70 hours a week become all the more expansive. In this column, Work Flow, we’ll delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions about ethics, gender assumptions, and toxic work situations (and how to escape them). How we work is an important component of how we live—and we’re here to help you do better at both.

Something messing with your flow? Unload your work problems here, and you’ll not only feel heard, but you’ll also get unbiased, real-world advice. (That’s something your work sibling/spouse just can’t offer.) Tell us everything: creator@wework.com

Our office has recently moved into a new building with an open-office format, and while I love the collaborative vibe, I’m having trouble with the fact that people assume I’m always available. I’ve tried using headphones, but this does not deter folks from interrupting me—even when I am clearly busy. Any suggestions on how I can better manage this transition?

Headphones are a start. (Are yours noise-canceling? Here are a few options for you, if not.) The trick is, you must sometimes remove your headphones completely—when you’re not in “uninterruptible” time—otherwise they become just another part of the scenery and something people will ignore. Set the expectation that when they are on, you’re working on something urgent and should not be bothered. If someone comes up to ask you a question during that time, tell them politely, “I’m so sorry, I’m on an immediate deadline. Come back at X time and we can talk?” Then get back to work. People should begin to get the point.

You could also ask your boss to send a reminder that headphone-wearing folks should not be interrupted unless the matter is truly urgent, like the copier is on fire. Alternatively, is there a conference room or empty office where people needing extra quiet might work on occasion? Some of the frustration may be from feeling helpless in this situation, and acting in a forward-thinking way can combat that.  

How can I exit a job gracefully? People become close (professionally) with their bosses, now more than ever. You follow each other on social media; maybe you even hang out casually outside the office. Can I tell my boss—whom I trust—that I’m looking? Are there new rules?

Every so often, the old rules are the best rules. The long-held standard of two weeks’ notice is there to help you out, as are the general best practices for resigning: Tell your boss in person if possible, write a nice resignation note (even an informal email thanking them for the opportunity and what you learned), don’t steal a bunch of staplers when you leave.

I would not tell even a boss you’re close with that you’re looking for another job before you actually have another job and are officially ready to give notice. When we’re very close with the people we work with, there may be an urge to say, Oh, I’ll stay longer, I’ll help find my replacement, I’ll do whatever it takes to make this transition easier for you, my friend—but don’t do that, either. Quitting a job is like a breakup; setting boundaries, and adhering to them, is important.

And here’s the thing: Your boss is not your friend, really and truly, even if before they were your boss they were your friend and after they are your boss they can again be your friend. Your boss is your boss, just like your company is not just some lovely spot with good coffee where you happen to sit and do work on your laptop now and again. The boss and the company should be treated with respect during your relationship and also as you’re ending it. Think about what you would prefer if you were in their shoes—but don’t undermine your own interests and well-being to achieve that.

Treat the severing knowing that you might want a recommendation from this person down the road. (You don’t have to keep following each other on social media. Kondo that stuff if it doesn’t bring you joy!) The important thing to remember is that this person might be your boss again at some point, but even if they’re not, they can help you figure out other opportunities, connect you to new professional acquaintances or gigs, and even be mentors. Or even better, good friends.

How can you tell someone you love that having their email signature in Comic Sans looks really bad?

Be brave enough to send them this link. In the case that the Comic Sans user is someone you don’t love, let them dig their own grave.

Illustration by Jiaqi Wang

Your local coffee shop may have recently banned the straw, but takeout practices will need to evolve way more radically if humanity intends to keep roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution from entering the environment each year. According to anti-plastic advocacy group 5 Gyres, millions of tons of that junk are byproducts of quick meals we eat on the go: candy wrappers, bottle caps, soda bottles, and clear plastic bags.

The We Company is one of a growing number of companies around the world that are doing their part by eliminating single-use plastics from their daily operations. But making this transition takes time, planning, and a culture shift away from our ingrained, single-use ways.

To outline some best practices, we talked to Lindsay Baker, The We Company’s head of sustainability and wellbeing, who oversaw the company’s six-month transition to single-use-plastic-free workspaces, and Rachel Labbé-Bellas, science programs manager for 5 Gyres, a member at WeWork 5792 W Jefferson Blvd in Los Angeles.

Tackle low-hanging fruit first. Consider your workspace kitchen—and your colleagues’ and your own habits. Is coffee made with single-use plastic pods or in a communal pot? Is water served in a glass or a plastic bottle? Is there a compost receptacle? A recycling container? Do people use them?If your answers err on the plasticky side, start by tackling those problems first by eliminating coffee pod systems or improving recycling options (and coworker compliance). “If you’re in an office where you do nothing else to be thoughtful about waste and your impact on the world, [eliminating single-use plastic] probably would be tough [to start with],” advises Baker.

Demonstrating to co-workers how much waste is saved by replacing plastic water bottles with a water cooler and reusable glasses could help plant the seeds for a bigger commitment to office sustainability.

Don’t swap one problem for another one. When The We Company tackled the plastics in its kitchens, “we really tried to prioritize not replacing single-use plastics with single-use other crap,” says Baker. Ceramic mugs and metal cups replaced disposable cups in the company kitchen, metal cutlery took the place of plastic silverware, and glass jars of honey landed on pantry shelves. “We’ve always had the choice of paper cups for water and beer, but ultimately, reusability was the bigger message here,” says Baker.

That’s because “recyclable” plastic alternatives might not necessarily make it to the proper processing facility once they’re discarded. “Many cities around the world don’t process compostable waste outside the landfill,” says Baker. Your “eco-friendly” paper cup might end up at the garbage dump, and trash in landfills does not break down—it just sits there forever.

Products made of biodegradable plastics won’t break down in the landfill or ocean, either. “They biodegrade in industrial facilities at 4,000 degrees,” says 5 Gyres’ Labbé-Bellas. “It takes that much heat to actually break down that item.”

Finally, 25 percent of properly recycled goods in the U.S. will be exported to another country, increasingly in Southeast Asia, where there’s a lucrative market for waste plastic. Once abroad, it could be reused—or it might be incinerated or end up in a landfill.

Baker recommends using alternative disposable materials only if there’s no reuseable option. The We Company is transitioning away from the use of wood stirrers, for example, with messaging that encourages coffee stirring with metal spoons.

Break it down to dollars and cents. Financial incentives can encourage buy-in from employers. “For us at The We Company, a reusable cup typically pays for itself after about 30 uses,” estimates Baker, which is why it could be in your company’s best interest to buy reusable cups for everybody in the office. And if your office pays for its waste disposal by volume, there could be an additional savings when all those single-use plastics are no longer filling up the trash cans.

Struggling to get the whole staff on board? Labbé-Bellas says that turning green initiatives into a competition—like who can waste the least or recycle the most—with prizes like gift cards or cash bonuses for the winner, can go a long way in changing people’s habits.

Get the messaging right. This involves more than just putting signs up around the trash area. 5 Gyres recommends officewide screenings (or just share the link) of The Story of Stuff’s 5-to-10 minute animated videos that show what happens to everyday items like disposable water bottles once you get rid of them. They may convince even the office skeptic.

When you do start making those signs, suggests Baker, “picking accurate terms like ‘zero single-use plastic’ as opposed to ‘zero-plastic’ will make sure people aren’t confused when they still see plastic around the office.” And one more tip: Labbé-Bellas says that newly-reformed coworkers may end up with stacks of plates and cups in their offices at first, and might need a reminder to return them to the kitchen.  

Work with green-friendly vendors. Your office may have rid itself of single-use plastics, but what about your caterers and food-delivery services? For most restaurants, it’s the default move to load up a bag of to-go food with single-use plastic forks and paper napkins. Offices that depend on catered meals should figure out which restaurants are most amenable to reducing waste in their packaging and encourage employees to order their food from those places. Restaurants might cut back on plastic wrap, use bigger trays to decrease the number of cartons, and eliminate plastic to-go boxes. “There are lots of things caterers can do just to reduce [plastic waste] if you ask them to,” says Baker.

Eager to reduce single-use plastic ASAP? Make sure your next coffee or lunch break is free of plastic straws, utensils, containers, and bags. It’s one small way to do your part—and it will only grow from there.

Photo by Katelyn Perry