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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

(Nearly) Up In The Air

Travelling with a laptop always has its beginning and its end, and I rarely spend much time on this in this blog. For one thing, it’s the most mundane part. Whatever the airport; whatever the destination; we still have our check in, our security process and potentially the inevitable ‘random’ screening. Then the trawl to the gate, and, finally, the wait for the plane…the flight attendants…Medallion members. Those bastards.

Today at Heathrow, ah beloved airport, they had really laid on the full experience. A bland, neon-vested chap described calmly to those 200-300 back in line:
 “Ah yes, well you see, we have 4 flights leaving within ten minutes of one another.”
Indeed? Well, that explains it then. What other possible explanation could there be for the delay? Or what solution? Nothing like, say, putting extra staff on the desk to offset the busy time? (We could all learn something from Tesco…sad to say.) Or, again, allowing silver medallion members to check in with Sky Priority agents? No, let’s just do the sensible thing. Remove all sense of a formed queue and allow the casually homicidal would-be passengers to form ever increasing lines of confusion. Did I say lines? Clumps, clusters, huddles of disaster may all be suitable synonyms.

In flight

And oh, the airport. Where else to find 200 identically dressed mussed-up-do blondes wearing Uggs of dubious authenticity? And jogging pants from Juicy or similar. Children who bring the art of screaming to a new decibel and pitch; parents who find arguments the best for of airport conduct. Or aimless discussions about when the plane will leave. Or what zone they are in. Or whether the announcements are really working. Or what time is it in America. Or whether they should have filed ESTA before travelling. Love-struck couples soppily kissing their farewells. [oh dear, talking about myself again.]

I love to wait in line. I do. I am British, after all. Where are the passport control people? There they are. They’re changing their mind about whether to continue working or go for tea. (Why are we wasting time on such question? Tea. In fact. Of course. Good decision.) Where are the security people? They are chatting. As I love to do when at work. No, in fact I have nothing better to do…I mean, who does?

I also love the security screening. It’s right up there with my favourite ten pastimes. Like listening to UB40's Red Red Wine and learning how to Morris Dance. I personally love to spend time behind the small group of individuals who still break with tradition and remain deaf and dumb to signs of guidance. “I have to put my laptop in a separate bin?" "I have to remove my belt?" "What’s that you say? My shoes?" "Ah, yes, I forgot about the toothpaste. Good point. And the razor. I meant to put it into my suitcase, I really did. What on earth is it doing in there?”  For these people, I would happily invest in a syndicate to implement Up In The Air’s security scene as compulsory viewing. Never mind the flight safety video. You’ll be preparing them for safety far better with a long-overdue lesson in airport etiquette.

Eventually reunited with functioning films...

Of course, it’s important to be at the gate on time. One risks missing out on the full waiting experience otherwise. Like when I arrived this morning. I am generally an obedient person when it comes to following transport instructions. One never knows when one might be left behind. So naturally it was with a cold sweat beading on my forehead that I marched down to gate five at 9.10am this morning to board my imminently departing flight at 9.25. The sweat trickled more rapidly with the calm at the gate. Had the plane already left? The patiently-seated few were surely the three-hours-early crew for the next flight? Such a waft of calm rested on the entire area of gate 5, that I wondered whether my eyes were deceiving me. Not getting any older, after all.

Two exciting trips to the accessible toilet later, am still no wiser. At this point, shaking with the consumption of additives + caffeine (diet Coke Zero and Kettle Chips) and dangerously close to the end of my range of Scramble with Friends contests, I am praying to the Delta Gods to save me please. And at last, an hour and a half later, it was answered.

Gratuitous George Pic. Well, why wouldn't I?

Fortunately, only a few restarts of the on-board in-flight entertainment system and I am free to watch my films of choice. Shame Up in the Air isn’t on offer.

The Delta crew provided me with the following delights today:

On takeoff, I learned I had a malfunctioning TV / sound system - absolutely unforgivable on long haul flights. After a 15 minute reset the sound was still providing screeching in my ear rather than anything resembling a film dialogue, so after yet another reset I was blessed by moving into a seat next door with functioning sound. Which was great until the flight attendant leaned across me to speak to my seat-mate and spilled water all over me. Thank you, Delta, for the miles you gave me to say sorry. And thank heaven for small mercies like these.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Telling Tales on Social Media

I was about to be very cross this morning.

Yesterday on LinkedIn I was carefully considering a new article cited in the Harvard Business Review group. The article, from Psychology Today, is fascinating whatever your profession or lifestyle, because on some level we all interact with people.

The Inside Story - Psychology Today

After reading the article I decided to comment myself. As those of you who have patiently followed my blog know, I'm not exactly posting on a daily basis. While I remain very enthusiastic about social media in its many forms and can be found on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn among other sites, I maintain my blog only when I feel like I have something to say that is potentially of interest. Ah, fortunate reader, otherwise it would be all laundry, time and expense reporting and Friday night margaritas every week. The latter creeps into this blog more often than it probably should.

The article explores our need for narrative and story telling, and how we respond to it. As someone whose career has centred around people's ability to change (including mine) I commented. The crossness I refer to above resulted because I then received a message telling me my comment was under review. "Fine", I thought." That makes good sense - it would not speak well of any publication to let the logic or grammatically-bereft of the world's populace comment willy-nilly."

How wrong I was. Within minutes of posting my comment, the following appeared:

Not quite Daily Mail, but really, people. Logic, thought, grammar. Ringing any bells at all?

Whilst trying to remain calm, it was as a rather disgruntled blogger that I went about the rest of my day. I don't consider myself the expert on change, but I do think that my voice is as relevant to this discussion as any change specialist. Plus I don't make grammatical errors, or post randomly ill-considered bilge.

And what is a blog for, but for the creation of discussion where one's own passions and opinions are at the root of the posts?

So in this post I am recording for posterity my two pence / five cents. And also Tears for Fears' wonderful "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" for irony and for the pure joy of it.

Happy Tuesday!

Everybody Wants To Rule The World. (And I would quite like to be featured in HBR's comments, thanks!)

My comment: now posted in LinkedIn's Harvard Business Review group (thanks!):

"Narratives are powerful because they allow us to connect. As a former teacher, working with some of the most challenging of London's children, connecting with (e.g.) a 12 year old self-harmer, abandoned by both parents, with a shared story - however insignificant (a love of Haribo, a common interest in the weekend's Chelsea result) begins the path to connection, acceptance and trust. To teach is to develop that trust and use it to lead - and leading through stories often fast tracks that learning onto the highway. 

Now I work in change management for businesses, I have not forgotten the importance of the story. How can I get 3000 people to use a new system? They don't like change; they would prefer the old system - it has its problems but it's familiar and they can do their jobs successfully using it. 

The first step towards adopting change is understanding, so we write the once upon a time stories of how this all began. We tell the people why things are not working the way we need them to for them, for their customers and for the company to keep growing. We don't just tell this story once, we tell it again and again with new examples, with key leaders sharing this so that the same message becomes a powerful tool. This is where the stories begin. As we continue on this journey of change more and more people in the company become story tellers for change. 

Training and communications are vital components of all change pieces. It is when the trainees become agents for training other through stories, and communicate the need for change that the entire organisation commits itself to success."

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Frankenstorm and Frankenmuth

Stormy weather stalked New York on Sunday 28th October as if to hail the arrival of a real life Halloween. I’m told that American teenagers delight in smashing pumpkins at this time of year. In New York this year I'm not sure they had the chance, as natural forces claimed the land and all of its possessions.

Reservoir View -  New York in the Fall

Not that you would have known this had you been at brunch in New York on Saturday. Everyone and his mother (as they say here, when they mean ‘the world and his wife’) was out celebrating the falling leaves and hailing the arrival of hat, coat and boot season. I would have expected more drama around the weather predictions than the murmurings of an impending super storm rustling around brunch tables like scattered dry leaves.

Prosecco-fuelled and dazed, I realised it was probably time to evacuate if I had any chance of flying home to England from Detroit the following week. Luckily I made it onto a Saturday Detroit-bound flight, and found myself in the familiar surroundings of the Westin Southfield once again. And while there are blips in the service as with any hotel, the beds and showers really are heavenly and the comfort of a hotel room that looks (now) like home, is something, even if I wouldn’t exactly picture it when clicking my ruby slippers together.

My local subway station during the storm. No downtown trains, then.

And here endeth my personal experience with Frankenstorm…So Sunday in Michigan…what to do?

75 miles north of Southfield is a small German town, settled originally in 1845, sometimes known as little Bavaria, but actually called Frankenmuth. No link this time with Mary Shelley. The city is named “Franken” for Franconia (in Bavaria) and “Mut” for courage. Like me, the original settlers arrived from New York – but travelled not by Delta’s *best* fleet but canals and the Great Lakes, on a mission to preach Lutheran Christianity to the Native American tribes.

The road to Frankenmuth

Although I visited the city museum (a bargain at $2) it is clear that Frankenmuth has morphed into another kind of experience – one largely geared towards a combination of the German and Native American traditions I will summarise as: cheese, beer, fudge and moccasins.

Haus of Cheese

I have never seen so many essential major food groups with their own shops – taffy twirling in the window, fudge fresh onto the marble slap and cheeses of all kinds (even chocolate cheese!). To stay in Frankenmuth is to play Russian roulette with the cholesterol gods. And I wouldn’t wager too many would come out unscathed!

Fudge Kitchen

After sampling some (alright all) of the above food groups and walking around the city, I made my way back to the outskirts for the one last stop I knew I really had to make: Bronner’s Christmas Store – “The largest Christmas store in the world”. Now this I had to see.

Would this make you feel welcomed at the Bavarian Inn? Hmmm.

And no, I was not disappointed. The stuff of the Grinch’s nightmares (and probably of many atheists) Bronner’s is Christmas what Disney World is to saccharin childhood cartoons: larger than life and frankly terrifying in some cases! I’ve captured a few choice pictures. I wisely decided not to open my wallet in the Christmas store, lest $1m later I emerged with a larger than life sized Wise Man and about 4 baubles costing $30 apiece.

Bronner's. Possibly the most terrifying Christmas store in the world. Ever.

So, departure from the storm was departure from reality for a while. Frankenstorm - I'm glad I escaped. Frankenmuth, I hope to see you again.