PPPPressure Testing - Four P's Episode 153

Standardized Testing, Pressure Washers, Climate Change & Apple vs. Facebook

It’s quite a rare occurrence when I wake up with over 1,000 notifications on my phone. But that’s what happened this week when I inadvertently stepped into a social media debate about resumes, of all things.

Last Wednesday, Leah Pilcer (a marketing lead for New Belgian Beer) wrote this on Twitter:

“Today I interviewed 5 candidates. Not one came with a notebook, pen, or copy of a resume. Either I’m getting old OR times aren’t what they used to be?”

I don’t know Leah well (we met at a conference a few years ago), so my reply was not meant to do anything but offer my perspective on her question:

My response, alone, earned hundreds of likes, comments and retweets, and inspired even more responses to those replies. It’s wasn’t pretty. And I felt guilty for somehow contributing to the negative direction that the conversation went, even inadvertently. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I often have a sarcastic, jocular tone to my commentary. It's usually ignored, and occasionally misunderstood. But I have no problem admitting when I missed the mark. In this case, my tone could have been less accusatorial, but it was not meant to be directed at any individual, at all. The vitriol and negativity directed at the original author/post was surprising and unfair. I mean, we’re talking about bringing a resume a meeting, not global climate change. Though maybe we should just move on and talk about climate change?

  1. (Climate) Change is in the Air

  2. A Boy and His Toy

  3. Facebook vs Apple

  4. Life is a Test


Something Political: Change is in the Air

Last week was Earth Day, and President Joe Biden used the occasion to lead a (virtual) Climate Change Summit. Two subsequent headlines and recap columns exemplify how this debate is going to play out over the next four years (at least).

First, what happened at the summit? Biden convened dozens of world leaders to re-engage on key climate topics, the first time we did so after the U.S. cowardly pulled out of the Paris Climate accords early on in the Trump presidency. Over the two-day summit, Biden made aggressive commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52% relative to 2005 levels by 2030 — the most ambitious target the U.S. has set to date. He's made no secret that climate will be a centerpiece of his economic agenda. Others also made new commitments, as well. Even Chinese President Xi Jinping committed to reducing coal consumption between 2026 and 2030.

Within the U.S., the tide appears to be turning. But not fast enough. GOP lawmakers are beginning to realize that climate denial is bad politics for appealing to a younger base.

As for the two headlines that grabbed my attention this weekend:

"Biden's Climate Change Summit Was a Remarkable Success," penned by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs for CNN.

"Joe Biden's Unserious Earth Day Summit," in the New York Post.

Sachs called the Summit a success, both for the nature of our leadership and global participation, as well as for the goals discussed and established. To have the leaders of the world's biggest nations aligning around the goal of deep decarbonization — meaning the shift of the energy system from fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) to zero-carbon sources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass and nuclear) — is massive progress.

The "Post Editorial Board," however, assailed Biden for inviting Russia and China to the summit, and for giving "autocrats a chance to feign virtue." They accused Biden of posturing about “environmental justice.” But what is the alternative? Ignore some of the largest producers of deadly emissions? Instead, the U.S. and its allies invited them to the table, pressed them for commitments, and can now hold them to it.

The Post, and climate change deniers, are not only on the losing side of an important, life-sustaining set of initiatives, but have totally lost any moral, intellectual and financial standing in this path towards correcting our mistakes.


Something Personal:  A Boy and His Toy

Saturday was a beautiful spring day in New York. Whereas it was only 35 degrees just two days earlier, the sun was out and the temperature hit 70 degrees this weekend. I even bought a few trays of flowers. And while conventional wisdom told me that it was too early to plant, the temptation to jumpstart spring was too much to resist. So into the ground went the impatiens and begonias, all before 11am Saturday morning. With an entire afternoon of discretionary outdoor time that I wanted to make productive, another temptation then started calling out to me.

Last month, my local hardware store targeted an ad on Instagram squared right at me. Two days later, I had a brand new pressure washer out of the box and ready to assemble. With the weather finally ready to cooperate this weekend, I connected hoses, nozzles, cords and cables and then set a target of my own: the moss, grass, dirt and grime on our backyard patio.

Words may not be fully able to describe the gratification that comes from blasting away green and brown sludge away to reveal the original color of that brick.

So what is it about a pressure washer that generates that feeling of excitement? Is it power (2,500 PSI!!)? Or is it something more primordial, something having to do with innovation and invention? From fire to the wheel to the artificial heart, inventions and discoveries have fueled adaptation and survival over millennia. So while a clean patio isn't going to enhance my evolutionary chances of success, the pull of next being able to start cleaning the fence, outdoor furniture, vinyl siding, side path, front porch and more will certainly enhance me chances of outdoor enjoyment this summer. Is it next weekend yet?


Something Professional:  Facebook vs Apple

While the hottest question people are asking each other these days is "Moderna or Pfizer?," the real question you should be asking is "Facebook or Apple?" Yet the average American has no idea what's really going down in this battle between super tech mega giants, nor how the collateral damage will impact their everyday lives for years to come. So let's break it down in the least jargony way possible so you understand WTF is really happening.

I've talked about data privacy here before. I'm pretty sure most of you skipped it. I don't blame you. They are two words that sound boring separately, and together. Few people realize how much of our personal data is now accessible online. Most don't. Some care. Most don't.

For the past few months, we've heard about the impending iOS14 (operating system) update that Apple will introducing to all devices any second now. Like most updates, users will blindly accept it… or not even realize it was installed overnight while they slept. But this IS significant because it will require users to give apps permission to track their activity across other apps and the web.

This change, which Apple calls App Tracking Transparency (ATT), may sound like a great thing for transparency. But lots of apps already track our web activity through default settings we accept when we install them. It is a common practice, but users are often unaware of it because we don't read terms of service or privacy policies. With the iOS update, iPhone users will now see a pop-up that overly calls out the fact that an app wants to track them. If blatantly asked, without context, who is going to want to opt in to that??? Sure, app developers can use this pop-up to explain how user data will be used, but this assumes that people will read the fine print. Most won't.

Facebook, specifically, and a few others, are not happy. Why? Because it threatens their biggest revenue stream: targeted ads. This type of personalized advertising has been transformative for the entire marketing industry, and Facebook's platform is extremely powerful, effective, and lucrative. Facebook calls this update "anti-competitive." Apple, who takes a cut of fees charged to app developers, says that they believe their users should have more control over the data being collected about them.

Everyone has weighed in now at this point, and change is unavoidable. So the impact all comes down to user acceptance. Ultimately, the biggest impact to you, the consumer, will be in the form of the advertising that you see. Knowing that ads won't disappear anytime soon, would you rather see ads that the algorithms determine are more relevant for you (based on your own behavior and history)... or do you want to see ads that are less likely to contain pertinent information or opportunities? You might also see some apps that have historically been free now turning to in-app purchases or a subscription model. Small businesses are also more likely to be impacted that larger ones, for sure.

So... now that you know and understand all of this, will you opt in… or opt out?


Something Practical:  Life Is a Test

Speaking of opting out... This past week, my fourth-grade son took his first standardized test. It was a two-hour reading assessment, the first of three exams he will take over the next two weeks (the next is math, then science) that is administered by the state. By his own telling, it was "fine." We didn't make a big deal of it, and neither did he.

As I've gotten more involved in local school administration (and politics), I've learned about a sizeable contingent of parents who don't believe in mandatory state testing because it isn’t good for the children's mental or emotional well-being. Perhaps I was out of the loop, but I do not recall a scenario where students could "opt-out" when we were growing up 30 years ago.

For most children, learning to perform under some degree of pressure is a good thing. It is preparation for adulthood, as we know there are moments throughout life where we are tested in some form or another. Learning to cope with pressure at a young age, in moderation, and with the right support, is important. These exams should not be should not be the ONLY evaluation criteria to measure both students' and teachers, but I don't know enough about the topic to say that testing should be mandatory or not. My experience tells me that opting out should really only be for the most extenuating of circumstances, but I'm not an education expert.

My son doesn't have academic anxiety, fortunately, but he does have anxiety about participating in team sports, whether organized or even schoolyard football. I grew up playing every sport imaginable, so I cannot relate. I'm glad he found a comfort (and talent) with golf and tennis, both individual sports, which he was able to come to on his own terms. Where does this even come from? Parents? Peers? What is it?

Children, today, are faced with external pressures like never before, while they’re also increasing surrounded by attention-sapping technology that can cause sleep deprivation and anxiety. It’s understandable when concerned parents want to protect them from hurt, disappointment or greater harm. Yet parents exerting too much control in one way or the other also adds to children’s anxiety. Constantly being told what to do, both at home and at school, can add up.

We all like to feel in control. When things feels beyond our control, we get stressed. And stress has serious consequences for the health and well-being of children as well as adults. Children suffer from stress when they feel like everything is out of their control. So giving children more control over their lives makes them happier and more motivated.

Parents tend to think they know best. As a result, many of them will make big decisions for their children, excluding the kids themselves from the process. No, children don't always have enough information or experience to see the bigger picture, so parents should help their children come to informed decisions… and over time, enable them to do so more on their own. But what is that age? How does one know? It obviously depends. If I gave my son a choice to opt out of the reading test, he likely would without hesitation. But is that right? Probably not yet.

Or… rather than dictating everything, what if I present all the options and information – along with MY own opinions – and then trust him to make the right call? If we've done a decent job, we should be able to trust kids to make good decisions. Sounds great. In theory.

Here's what I DO know. Anxiety rubs off on children, so maintaining a calm presence must be a priority. Easier said than done, I know. We worry about our children. And when we’re anxious, no matter how well we try to hide it, our kids pick up on it. Children are happier, healthier, and more successful when they’re calmer. And remembering that academic success isn’t the only route to fulfillment is important. There are many different ways people can attain success and contribute to the world. More than any specific skill, developing a good work ethic is the one thing that set me up for success as an adult. For every child, success and happiness come from figuring out what they do best of all.

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