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    Entries in travel (5)

    Friday
    Jan242014

    Notes from the road #9 - The 'Which car is in your airport?' test

    Really quick shot from me on a travel Friday - a revival of the long-dormant 'Notes from the road' travel series as I have, fittingnly, been on the road this week. For this installment I have two observations/data points and a then some questions for you.

    Observation #1 - On display in the terminal of the charming Greater Rochester (NY) International Airport (I think we have one flight a day to Toronto), was this fine vehicle:

    This is a Fiat 500

     

    Observation #2 - On display in the terminal of the West Palm Beach International Airport was this little beauty:

    This is a Ferrari 458 

    What does this difference in Italian sportscar display say about the two airports/cities?

    What does it make us think about what life might be like living there, (because on any trip one of the cities will not be home for you).

    If you were flying in a candidate, or if you were the candidate maybe, and she/you take off from a Ferrari city only to land in a Fiat city, would that influence the opinion, attitude about the city, and impact the likelihood that the interview would go well, and they would perhaps even take the job?

    Last one - which car(s) are sitting in your home airport right now, or which one should be there that would be a good reflection of your city?

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday
    Jan312013

    On airplane batteries and single sources of failure

    After a massive and highly public launch of the new Boeing commercial jet the 787 Dreamliner, the manufacturer and their customers have been beset with major problems, including a worldwide grounding of all 787s in service, over concerns about possible battery overheating and fire risk.

    The trouble with the 787 appears to stem from the planes' lithium-ion batteries that are used on the ground to power and recharge many of the aircraft's electronics.  Concerns about these batteries propensity to overheat and present a fire risk have led to the grounding, but there have been other 787 problems as well - ranging from a cracked cockpit windshield to oil leaks.

    Meanwhile as Boeing, their airline carrier customers, and various sub-contractors attempt to understand and resolve these problems with the batteries, a wider conversation about the safety of lithium-ion batteries, and whether or not these kinds of batteries should be allowed to be brought onto airplanes at all was breaking out. For a brief moment, it appeared that at least some major airlines, (British Airways, Cathay Pacific), were considering banning all devices with these batteries, (like your laptop, tablet, and smartphone), from their flights - both in the cargo hold as well as in carry-on bags. Both arilines have since walked back on their initial statements, and for now anyway, laptops and smartphones are still allowed as carry-on items.

    The point of all this? 

    Well just about everyone that travels for business would not dream of heading out on the road for meetings, customer visits, a trade show or a conference - without their trusty cadre of electronic assistants - almost all of them powered by lithium-ion batteries. If some or even all airlines decided to ban their presence on planes due to safety concerns, this would have a significant and disruptive affect on all business travelers. Heading out of town without a laptop or your iPhone? You would not dream of it, right?  Heck, for many people going 15 minutes without their smartphone turns them kind of nervous and twitchy.

    But to me, at least considering the idea that we can easily become over-reliant on a particular technology or tool is worth a re-visit from time to time. It is pretty likely that airlines will not ban personal electronics on their flights anytime soon, (the revenue hit would be enormous), but the possibility that a solution you've come to depend upon might not always be available to you 24/7 is much more realistic.

    Maybe you've become over-reliant on LinkedIn, or some other virtual source of information at the expense of building solid real-world networks? What if LinkedIn suddenly doubled or tripled their pro license fees? Or you're asked to recruit into a field where candidates don't even use LinkedIn?

    Perhaps you've built a long and successful career riding the back of a big, enterprise technology or architecture stack, and suddenly, and seemingly without warning, that technology is no longer in demand, and with it, your value as an 'expert' dramatically diminished?

    Or what if you've built a stable career inside an organization primarily by clinging to the status-quo, protecting the precedence of how work gets done, only to be disrupted by some combination of new technology, new people, or new leadership - most of which don't really care how much you know about what happened in the 90s?

    Sure, it is really tough to imagine (and a little unrealistic) heading out on a long business trip without our normal, and usual tools we need to conduct business, and to get things done. It seems really unlikely anyone will be faced with that any time soon. But is far more likely, and even certain, that disruption of your routine - technological, personal, organizational - is coming, and probably going to catch you unprepared.

    Here's a good exercise for that spare 10 minutes you have right now, (I know you have some time, you made it all the way to the end of this post) - think about the ONE tool or technology you rely upon the most at work, and then come up with two or three action plans if in the unlikely event that tool or technology were to become unavailable to you.

    I think there are at least two major benefits to doing this. One, if indeed you lose access to your favorite tool or tech, you have at least a starting point to go from before deciding your next move. And two, maybe just maybe you'll find a better solution or approach to the one that you swear you can't live without.

    Thursday
    Feb162012

    Notes From the Road #6 - Accountability in the Air

    The scene was the start of the cross-country Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta - San Francisco. As the last few passengers were getting settled, the head flight attendant commenced her normally familiar and standard set of pre-flight announcements. You know these standard flight safety announcements, you tune them out just like I do - I mean what person alive is actually not familiar with how a seat belt is fastened?

    But on this flight - the announcements were different and distinctive. No, not for being all that clever or funny, like sometimes are found on Southwest Air flights, but for being more real, personal, and accountable that most. 

    Before launching into the speech about the faster seat belt light and turning off cell phones, the flight attendant said something along the lines of this:

    'I know that you many of you may find air travel frustrating or stressful or too expensive. I know what people sometimes write or say about flying on our airline. I understand that feeling sometimes myself. But I want to let you know that it is my personal responsibility to make this flight an enjoyable one for you, and to take some of that stress and frustration away. So if and when you need something, you let me know, and I will take care of it.'

    What I loved about the speech, apart from the sincerity from which it was delivered, (you kind of had to be there to get that sense), was that the flight attendant talked in first person, using 'I' and 'me' in her statements, rather than the softer and more general 'we' or 'us'. She was not suggesting that the other flight attendants on the flight did not share her desire to make the flight a successful and enjoyable one, but rather she was taking personal ownership and accountability for results. It is a small thing, but I thought it stood out, and to me it was pretty refreshing.

    And as the 5-hour flight passed, from what I observed she backed up that statement with her performance. Cheerful, attentive, professional all the way. I think demonstrating some of the best leadership I've seen in action in a long time. 

    Recognize the issues, take ownership, have a plan, be personally responsible, and then follow through.

    Very cool and a definitley helped make a Sunday night cross-country flight much better.

    Have a Great Weekend!

    Tuesday
    Nov292011

    Notes From the Road #3 - Technology Can Make Us Stupid

    Note: This is the latest installment in an occasional series of quick dispatches from the trail - things I pick up from airports, hotels, cabs, meetings - anywhere really, in hopes that at least some of the observations will be interesting and even worthwhile. And also, since being out on the road for work usually throws off the schedule and gives me less time to worry about the little blog here, these Notes from the Road pieces have a internal timer set at 15 minutes. Whatever ideas, no matter how half-baked or thinly developed, get the 'Publish' treatment at the 15-minute mark.  Remember the good old days?

    Ready, set, go. Fifteen minutes starts now.

    Late last night, (so late it was technically this morning), I picked up another one in a long chain of non-descript rental cars from the San Francisco airport. The kind of small, uninspiring, utterly forgettable kinds of cars that seem to survive solely on fleet sales to the Hertzes and Avises of the world. So what?Not a big deal really. With these kinds of weekly business rentals what companies and travelers are mostly interested is reliable, safe transport at the lowest cost possible. And my typical ChevroFordNisOyota boxes generally fit that description.

    As I loaded up the blue/gray/white, (actually I sort of don't remember what color it is), and headed for the exit all I was really thinking about was finding the hotel and crashing after what had been an extremely long day of last day of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend travel. When I pulled up to the rental car exit to show the attendant my driver's license and answer 'No' to the endless series of upsell questions, ('Do you want to take out insurance in case you and the rental car are kidnapped  and shipped to the Crimea?'), I suddenly and surprisingly froze, as I was unable to find the button or switch that would lower the driver's side window so I could hand over my paperwork.

    Where the heck was the button? Why can't I find the button? I am sitting here like a idiot that can't sort out how the rental car works. The guy behind me just started honking. What the hell?

    Then it hit me, (finally, although it probably only took a few seconds, it seemed like a lot more), the car had manual windows. And the window handle was kind of small, and positioned pretty low on the inside of the door. That, the unfamiliar car, the darkness in the rental car garage, the late hour, and an extremely tired Steve conspired to render me unable to operate one of the most basic and primitive user interfaces ever invented - a little handle that simply needs to be turned a few times to lower the window.

    I can't remember the last time I was in a car that did not have automatic windows, power locks, intermittent wipers - really all of the once amazing technological advances that have made driving easier, more fun, and more sophisticated. But becoming accustomed to all these things, I think, has made many of us kind of technologically dependant, and has reduced our ability and even our curiosity about the tools and technology we have come to expect that will take care of us to some extent.

    Modern technology is truly amazing, wondrous, insert your favorite adjective here. But relying on it too much, and never having to operate in more primitive environments, can also allow the technology to own us in a way.

    And one day, when the machines rise up against us...

    Thursday
    Nov102011

    Notes From the Road - #1 - Technical Instructions

    This is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of quick dispatches from the trail - things I pick up from airports, hotels, cabs, meetings - anywhere really, in hopes that at least some of the observations will be interesting and even worthwhile. And also, since being out on the road for work usually throws off the schedule and gives me less time to worry about the little blog here, these Notes from the Road pieces have a internal timer set at 15 minutes. Whatever ideas, no matter how half-baked or thinly developed, get the 'Publish' treatment at the 15-minute mark.  

    Ready, set, go. Fifteen minutes starts now.

    So if you spend any time in hotel rooms you've probably came up against the scourge of many a traveler - the 'in-room coffee maker'. These tiny, devious machines are notorious for being impossible to operate, usually having a series of cryptic line drawings that pass for operating instructions, producing horrible coffee, and generally leading to a disappointing experience overall.Coffee!

    I've had many a run-in with these little devils, and two days ago made a gigantic mess by overfilling the machine and spilling hot coffee all over the place, (sorry Aloft Hotel). So this morning when I cautiously approached the in-room coffee maker at the Sheraton in Reston, VA, I was stunned and grateful to see the little instruction card you see on the right of this post propped up in front of the machine.

    Why are these technical instructions so effective?

    1. They are written in plain language. No jargon, no weird or awkward phrases. They are written like someone would tell you how to use the machine.

    2. They address common concerns without condescending to the user. The pod did seem too big to fit in the machine, but it worked just fine.

    3. They are dirt simple. Making in-room coffee should be easy. And it almost never is. But by combining a well-designed machine with a just-right set of instructions, (and some quality coffee as well), the entire experience was positive.

    Simple, simple, simple. Don't over think your messages, instructions, communications. Write like you'd speak to people, like adults, and like adults that are not necessarily experts in your wonderful new technology or process.

    Well done Sheraton. 

    That's 15 minutes, (give or take), and I am out.