Bring Balance to the Force… of both Novel and Nostalgia

I have never been more excited for a movie than I am for tonight’s Star Wars – The Last Jedi premiere. I have also never been more nervous. I have been journeying to this galaxy far, far away for my entire life and the Force is ingrained in all the best parts of my childhood. And while I may no longer be a young Farm Boy on Tatooine, I have now evolved into an old Jedi Master in the suburbs… inspiring new adventures with my own young padawans.

So as this installment of the Skywalker Saga arrives now forty years after the original, what is it about this VIIIth Episode that has me more enthused, yet more anxious than all the rest?

Luke Skywalker.

Luke was my hero growing up and has one of the greatest story arcs of any character from any movie franchise. A “nobody” from a desert planet, Luke is propelled into an epic adventure in which he ultimately discovers “magical” powers and saves his friends, his father, and all the good in the galaxy. And then he parties with ghosts and ewoks.

That was 1982 and represented Luke’s last on-screen appearance until 2015’s “The Force Awakens”. Luke reappears for only the closing shot of this movie and, although he never says a word, the epically literal cliffhanger has had me on the edge of my seat for two years. And after years of anticipation, I finally get to see my childhood hero in action again.

But what if Luke is not who I want him to be?

While I am hungry for this new twist to the journey, I also don’t want to see my long-standing perception of Luke be damaged or erased. Luke right now is a perfect hero, and while I recognize that some new weakness, some pain, and likely even some Darkness may be necessary to move his story arc forward, I want it to be done in a way that does not diminish, or even destroy, the hero of my childhood.

I want the perfect balance of Nostalgia and Novel.

This is a sensitive balance to strike, and a fine line that the filmmakers of Disney must walk with each of these new films. When The Force Awakens launched two years ago, J.J. Abrams rightly swung the balance more heavily toward nostalgia as the audience yearned to feel the tonality of the original Star Wars trilogy rather than the prequel trilogy that followed. As Rian Johnson takes on this next chapter, we’ve challenged him to swing the balance the other direction and to deliver something that we’ve never experienced before… but in a way that still builds off of that nostalgic base that we know and love.

This tension extends far beyond Star Wars into this galaxy as well. As a consumer, I strive for efficiency and do the balance of my shopping online, yet I still love to physically walk into a few small, specialty stores for certain items. As an innovator, I work to evolve existing brands with breakthrough products, packages, and ideas, but still strive to strike the right pacing and fine balance of fresh and familiar. And as a father, I can’t wait for my kids to grow up and to find their place in this crazy world, yet simultaneously want them to cling dearly to the youthful innocence of childhood as long as possible.

There may not be a scientific formula to solve this delicate equation of nostalgia and novelty, but there is certainly an art… and this art is grounded in the intricate knowledge and creative insight of our consumers, our brands, our products, and ourselves.

So tonight, I will journey again to that galaxy far, far away with my children, my brother, and my friends. As I recline enraptured with the screen before me, I will heed Luke’s warning that, “This is not going to go the way (I) think.” Yet I am excited to join him on this next adventure and am optimistic that The Last Jedi will build on the nostalgia of this heroic character while endeavoring into entirely unchartered space.

May the Force Be with Us.

kNOw Sweat. The Six Word Story.

Throughout the month of November, our team at Upstream 360 has helped to support the inaugural Hyperhidrosis Awareness Month. Hyperhidrosis is a debilitating disease in which the body’s mechanism for cooling itself is overactive — so overactive that sufferers may sweat uncontrollably, often four or five times more than is necessary. This disease impacts nearly 5% of the global population – more than the entire population of the United States. To quote a pre-eminent expert in the field, Dr. David Pariser, “While hyperhidrosis may not be a life-threatening condition, it’s deeply life-altering, with overwhelming effects on social, professional, and home life.”

The driving force behind establishing this Awareness Month is the International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHhS). “Founded in 2003 by an elite team of world-respected physicians and experts in hyperhidrosis research, the International Hyperhidrosis Society is the only independent, non-profit, global organization that strives to improve quality of life among those affected by excessive sweating.” ( Led by Lisa Pieretti, this organization is leading an intense and impassioned quest for finding better treatments, and ultimately a cure.

My personal journey with the IHhS began more than a decade ago when I was working to develop the Secret Clinical Strength antiperspirant at Procter & Gamble. Our two organizations formed a strong partnership that led to a deeper understanding of the condition, a greater awareness of the extreme social and emotional impact on sufferers, and the design of a new category of underarm antiperspirants that helped to alleviate some symptoms. This relationship has remained strong over the years, and I am blessed that even upon my leaving P&G that this journey has continued.

Now at Upstream 360, my team has partnered with the IHhS to develop content to drive education, community, and support for this inaugural Hyperhidrosis Awareness Month. In managing the social media efforts, we have developed videos, infographics, and messaging to achieve this mission. And while we are proud of the work that we have developed, we humbly acknowledge that the most impactful messages came from the community of hyperhidrosis sufferers themselves.

I talk often in these blogs about the power of a good 6-word story in its ability to paint a concise and insightful picture. As part of this social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, we asked the community to “In 6 words or less, describe the story of hyperhidrosis in your life.” The responses were amazing and often heart-wrenching. Hundreds of responders told their tales and managed to capture the heart, mind, and soul of what these sufferers experience each and every day.

Sweat pours, tears fall, neither stops.

Uncontrollable sweating that drowns your dreams.

Hyperhidrosis is anxiety. Anxiety is Hyperhidrosis.

Embarrassment, causing stress, causing more sweat.

Chronic discomfort resulting in frequent anxiety.

Sweat hides me. Prison of shame.

…powerful stories that sincerely and succinctly show the sadness, the stigma, and the anxiety of so many who are suffering in silence.

So as this inaugural Hyperhidrosis Awareness Month comes to a close, again I am humbled to have been a part of driving awareness for this underserved condition. If you are touched by these stories, if you wish to learn more, or if you want to donate to the cause, please visit the IHhS website for more information.

Upstream 360 And The Elephant In The Room

I started my adventure as the Innovation Director at Upstream 360 just over eight months ago and it has been quite a ride.  Partnering with companies, brands, and teams around the world to invent ideas, craft concepts, strategize social media, create copy, and so much more… it has been a whirlwind of strategy, creativity, and agility.  And it has been a blast!

What is interesting, however, is how challenging it has been for me to provide an “elevator pitch” answer to the question, “What does Upstream 360 do?”  It is not that I don’t know the answer… it is that the breadth and depth of the types of work we do make it challenging to provide a concise, pithy, and holistic answer.

See… that last paragraph wasn’t even pithy!

Okay, let me try a parable.  Remember that famous one from India about the Blind Men and the Elephant? Six blind men all chance upon an elephant, and they all end up with a remarkably different take on what they have encountered.  One guy runs into the elephant’s side and experiences a wall.  Another feels the sharp tusk and imagines a spear.  The trunk moves like a snake, the leg stands proudly as a tree, the ear sways softly as a fan, and the tail hangs down as a rope.  All of these represent a part of the experience and are not exactly wrong… but they don’t portray the big picture.

Similarly, as we work with our wide range of clients, we see a diverse range of perceptions.  Some only know us as the innovation experts and “idea people” since we have helped them to discover breakthrough new concepts and product demos.  Others only know us for our design chops, because our 2D and 3D illustrators have brought their product’s magic to life visually.  To some we are only their “production company”, as our directors and production teams produce commercials for broadcast and content for digital in our studio.  Still, others think of us as their  “advertising agency”, developing and executing social media strategy and management.  To another large group, we are a “research firm” as our scientists and engineers study new products, how they work, and what consumers perceive.  None of these notions are wrong, and we are proud of each of these aspects.  They simply don’t quite bring the whole elephant into the room.

This week we have re-launched our Upstream 360 website, and in doing so we are sharing for the first time our complete vision of all that we do here.  Certainly, there is a lot of diversity in our work and we don’t want to lose that.  But we also want to make sure that we portray the big picture and what we stand for along with our key points of difference.  We focus a lot on the “6 Word Story” here… so what are the six words that best describe Upstream 360?

We are proud to present (drum roll, please…) “Ideation to Creation.  All Under One Roof”.  7 words, but we always go above and beyond here!  We believe this encapsulates the creativity, agility, tangibility, and stream-lined nature of our work.  For those that have worked with us in the past, are currently partnering with us, or might walk through these doors in the future, we invite you to check out our homepage, watch our introductory video, and explore our case studies.   Be sure to let us know if you can see the sum of the elephant, as well as its parts!

Mike Thomas is Upstream 360’s Director of Innovation and has a memory like an elephant. He remembers every elephant he’s ever met.  He also authored the unforgettable book, Agents of Change: Unleashing the Innovation of Real-Life Superheroes, available in, paperback and eBook.