PPPPausing for Summer - Four P's Ep.160

A Return to Abnormal, Convergence & Construction, Data Privacy, and Rest.

The end is here.
Well, not THAT end.
Maybe I should say that AN end is here.

Remember a year ago, when everyone was keen to remind you that "We're in this together?" It has now been approximately 500 days since Coronavirus reached our shores and changed the world as we know it. And it continues to change, but this time, for the better. Albeit more slowly than it could. And should. But we've made it to the end of ANOTHER COVID-impacted school year, and since the Four P's schedule has always aligned to the academic calendar, I'm both excited and disappointed to inform you, dear reader, that we have reached the end of Season 3 of the Four P's.

The 40 editions of this newsletter + accompanying video this year (160 P's, if you're counting) covered a broad range of topics: blockchain, boycotts and books, procrastination and pollen, a presidential election and natural selection, mask management, task management, and time management. You've experienced my half-hearted attempt to create a mid-life crisis and survived week of stir-craziness where I didn’t even leave my house. Unlike the first two seasons, which were created all over the world - from London to the Bay, Paris to Palm Beach -- this entire string of posts this season originated from right here, my Quarantine HQ on Long Island.

So now we pause for summer hiatus, a time to Recharge the mental engine, Re-emerge into society, Research new ideas and ways to entertain and inform, Reset the algorithms, and Rethink some of the overall approach here. Wait, that's 5 R's. Hmmmm. But before that, here are four last P's to peruse.

  1. A Return to Abnormal

  2. Convergence and Construction

  3. The Rest is History

  4. Agents of Data Privacy

Something Personal: A Return to Abnormal

There is a lot of talk about this summer being a "return to normal." And while I support the optimistic sentiment, it will only really be normal when we stop thinking about, talking about, and asking “what is normal" again. And that won't be this summer. That said, there are many, many things that we will be, and already are, doing that to feel like a return to how things were. And I'm excited for all of them:

Something Professional: Convergence and Construction

As the integration and assimilation of Revelation into Jellyfish advance through the final operational steps this summer, I will find myself in a rare and unique position: with time and opportunities to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills. Anyone who works in the marketing industry will tell you that the rapid rate of change requires ongoing investment in personal and professional development in order to just keep up.  I did this several years ago with creative tools, then with platform knowledge, then again with operational, management, and leadership skills.

But the ocean of opportunity is vast, and there is still far more that I DON'T know, that I have not learned, and have not yet mastered across a number of unexplored areas. My professional curiosity is always high, but couple that with some open road out in front of me, and I'm excited about how this summer could shake out.

Two themes that have always resonated with me are convergence and construction: seeing how things can and should come together, and then building the right model to scale for success. Looking at the menu of Jellyfish's products and services for clients, as well as the industry as a whole, a few ideas are coming into focus:

  • The convergence of technology and talent: In the creative business, innovation and ideation happen where technology and talent intersect. What technology do Creatives need to be more creative? Is it better access to audience data? Better ways to measure what creative resonates and drives business objectives? Is it better connecting Creatives from across the world to collaborate faster, easier and better? For me, this comes down to more than just recruiting, resourcing and reporting. (Which, if you're counting, is three more R's!)

  • The convergence of management and leadership: While these two words are often used interchangeably (as I've talked about here repeatedly), they are actually two sides of the same coin. Some businesses understand the difference, others don't. One area that sits in the middle of the two is mentorship, which doesn't always require direct line management, but provides guidance, direction and support within the context of growth and development.

  • The convergence of marketing and... marketing: Very few companies in the marketing industry actually eat their own dog food. We talk a lot about the positive feedback loop of data > insights > strategy > content > distribution > measurement > optimization, but how many agencies, consultancies and tech platforms actually do this, themselves? Whatever the number is, a far smaller amount actually do it well.

  • The convergence of content and context: This is a story I've been writing for a few years now, but a few things have changed. The delivery platforms are faster, and there are more of them. Consumers' tolerance for error is lower, but their demand for diversity is higher. So selectivity and prioritization have never mattered more when it comes to creative and delivering content - place, time, and tone.

  • The convergence of openness and fairness: When digital marketing and media platforms are the most powerful, most leveraged, yet least regulated and least trusted institutions on the planet, the onus falls on those creating the message to use these communication vehicles properly. In addition to brand and marketing content, these platforms are some of the biggest funders and monetizers of hate speech and disinformation. Branded content and ads are placed in some of the worst places on the internet without marketers knowing it, or at least adjacent to it. I don't have answer to this, but at least we are now aware of the problem.

  • The convergence of geology and geography: Geology is the accumulated study of structures and substance, their history, and the processes that act on it. In a similar framework, “professional geology” goes back decades, even centuries. Institutionalized ways of working that have barely changed over that time can provide stability, but may also preclude growth and innovation. We see how advances in technology and society create stratified or conglomerate layers. My company and so many others, however, are pushing the boundaries... of boundaries. Thousands of colleagues and partners in nearly 50 different locations collaborating every day. How do we create a culture of subcultures? What's working? What's not? Why? How? More has changed in the past 18 months than in the past 50 years, but not everyone adapts in the same ways.

  • The convergence of divergent purposes: With a greater emphasis on many types of purposes of different kinds, the principles, goals and ideals that matter to each of us remain diverse, and in many cases, increasingly polarizing. Whereas a focus on the environment, or equality, or equity may resonate with many individuals (and brand goals), we know that those values can also turn off just as many people. Yet staying on the sidelines is also a recipe for failure. If company values embody the values of employees + the values of their customers/constituents, we have to realize that we can never please all of the people all of the time.

Something Practical: The Rest is History

Several years ago at a conference, I found myself seated at a table with Arianna Huffington right after she sold The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million. Someone asked her what she was going to do with all of her new free time, at which point she laughed and began to spout out a list of things that were already occupying her brain, if not her time. One memorable topic was her fascination with sleep and the concept of restfulness.

Irregular, unhealthy sleep patterning is one of the curses of an active brain. I've talked about it with my doctor for years, and our mutual concern finally reached the level where he just prescribed me a sleeping aid (and a strong one, at that) for the first time ever. I'm reluctant to try it, since my wife was quite mortified at the dosage he recommended. ("That could knock a horse out for a week!") So I haven't tried it yet. Instead, I'm focusing more on the idea of restfulness. As always, one of my favorite ways to rest is reading books. Bring those two things together, restfulness and reading, meant it was only a matter of time before I read the The Art of Rest, by Claudia Hammond.

The stress of work, hectic family schedules, and the broader world around us can all take their toll. Inertia isn't just a physical force, but a mental one as well. Even when there may be time to pause, I feel nagging sense of guilt that I should be using my time more productively. Stress also tends to interrupt sleep, with damaging consequences. I'm pretty sure that there is no magic formula or trick to getting a healthy night of sleep on a consistent basis. But rest... now that's something I should be able to carve away at.

Last weekend, with a a few days away and change of scenery, I picked up The Art of Rest to learn how to incorporate more restfulness into my life. The book not only shares the results of largest survey on rest ever conducted, called the "Rest Test," but provides useful insights into which activities people find most restful. The study, conducted back in 2016, included 18,000 people from 135 countries. And the results are of the survey provide us with a list of areas in which we can focus. While this isn't exactly my summer to-do-nothing list, it can provide us all with a useful, practical set of goals:

  1. Do Nothing At All: Of the more than 18,000 responses to the Rest Test, one of the most popular restful activities listed in the book isn’t really much of an activity at all. It’s doing nothing. Doing nothing in particular is a popular restful activity, but people still find it difficult. It may not be a "respected" way to pass the time based on current social norms (not to mention health risks if this non-activity becomes excessive), but there are some encouraging benefits for would-be doers of nothing. Inactivity can have a positive influence on creativity, can help to improve your memory, or just slow down your thoughts. The study clearly differentiates this solution from doing "almost nothing," like knitting, reading, drawing or doing a puzzle.

  2. Listen to Music: In the Rest Test, listening to music was the fourth most popular restful activity. We all know the restorative, positive impacts that music can have on our physical and mental well-being, but not just any music. Listening to slow music is relaxing, as long as you like the song and it’s not too complex. Different music actually affects our moods differently. Fast music in a major key is more likely to spark excitement; slow, dissonant music in a minor key is associated with sadness. Restful music isn’t limited to generic relaxation playlists on YouTube. The criteria are, in fact, much simpler: the music shouldn’t be too fast or too complex – and, most importantly, you should like it.

  3. Be Alone: While not a specific activity, per se, small doses of alone time can be restful (as long as you choose the place and the time). As with doing nothing in particular, being alone is only relaxing in certain situations. For alone time to be restful, you also have to recognize it as such, and do it on your own terms. It’s not just about escaping people, work, commuting, commitments or nagging obligations. Taking a little time for yourself also lets you listen to your emotions and reflect on who you are – removed from the pressures or judgments imposed by others. And doing so without imposing our own pressures on ourselves during this time.

  4. Be In Nature: The peacefulness of nature is classically associated with restfulness. Listening to birds, watching tree branches sway, feeling a breeze dance across your skin all have the capacity to soothe our troubles and brighten our spirits. It's science. Researchers at Stanford used brain scanners to measure activity in our brain both before and after 90-minute walks in nature to show how the physical activity decreased brain activity. Of course, whether or not you find nature restful depends on who you are and what meaning you associate with certain landscapes. I often think of the neighborhood park where I grew up to settle restlessness... whereas an unfortunate jellyfish sting could ruin the vision of a beach for you forever.

  5. Read: You're doing it right now. In the Rest Test, 58% chose reading as their top means of getting rest. It's the best way for me to fall back asleep when waking up in the middle of the night, and certainly works better for me than meditation or watching Netflix (unlike late-night screen time, reading before bed isn’t linked to poorer sleep quality). Even when reading is more cognitively demanding - it doesn’t turn off the brain - stress levels and blood pressure dropped because we have the most control over the experience: you can read at your own pace, in your own way. Instead of tidying up your thoughts, it adds new ones.

While we're all different, prioritizing the right kind of restfulness, as well as focusing on the rest, itself, is key. Even if pressed for time, incorporating shorter moments of restfulness – or even micro-breaks – is encouraged. But if you become so preoccupied with getting enough rest that it starts causing you stress, it’s time to reevaluate.

Something Political:  Agents of Data Privacy

Last week, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a new bill, the Data Protection Act of 2021. Actually, it was more a “renewed” bill that failed to pass from the last session of the 116th Congress, but there are some changes. With Democrats now holding slim voting majorities in both houses on Congress, Gillibrand knows that there is potentially a limited window of opportunity for legislation, even with the Senate's filibuster protocol.

The bill builds on her previous version in ways that align with the Biden administration’s agenda taking on the biggest tech companies around. So why is this notable? The bill would establish a federal Data Protection Agency (DPA), which many in both parties believe is necessary, though they disagree on how such an agency could and should work. The Agency's role would be to regulate and enforce federal data privacy laws. The bill also outlines some prohibited data collection and usage practices, including those that are discriminatory or deceptive, and bans re-identifying users from de-identified data.

In addition to provisions in the original bill, this new bill would establish the following provisions, among others: (1) enable the DPA to review “Big Tech” mergers that involved a data transfers or “data aggregators”; (2) establish an Office of Civil Rights within the DPA; (3) grant the DPA enforcement authority for “high-risk data practices”; and (4) establish fines and penalties for “unlawful, unfair, deceptive, abusive, or discriminatory data practices.”

Which means the new agency would review the privacy implications of any mergers that include transferring the data of 50,000+ users (like Facebook and Instagram, AT&T + Time Warner, etc.). That review would then be sent to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice to be used in determining whether to allow the mergers to go through. Regarding the discriminatory practices, there is currently no one agency responsible for overseeing those violations.

Many believe that the FTC has dropped the ball on data privacy, imposing "symbolic" but ultimately meaningless fines against Big Tech companies that are essentially slaps on the wrist. The FTC has a new lead, Lina Khan, who rose to prominence as a Big Tech critic and antitrust expert, and her appointment reflects that the Biden administration wants to prioritize those antitrust matters, as do lawmakers in both parties and both houses of Congress. The current data privacy laws are not enough and don’t reflect how the digital ecosystem actually works. But this is an instance where they just can't agree on how to address that problem, so federal privacy bills have historically gone nowhere... and this one may not go anywhere, either.

So that’s it for now. In the meantime, I wish you all a great few weeks of relaxation, contemplation, productivity and enjoyment. I’ll have a few mid-summer thoughts to share here over the weeks to come, including a special Olympics-themed Four P’s in a few weeks. And then I’ll be back with Season 4 of the Four Ps with some upgrades and changes before you know it. Take care, be well, and keep in touch!

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