An excellent Venn Diagram

by Graham Email

Just finished reading "Ignore Everybody..."

by Graham Email

I spent my travel time en route from Dallas to Sacramento reading "Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity" by Hugh MacLeod. Hugh MacLeod is the guy who gradually backed into a new career drawing and selling cartoons drawn on the back of business cards.
As I have come to expect from book titles, the book does not contain any single piece of advice "ignore everybody" is a lot more subtle than that.
The book is an easy-to-read primer by a grounded creative. I especially liked his constant refrain of "don't give up the day job just yet". As he explains, he gradually moved from working in advertizing to being a full-time creative person, but even now he does work that is not intrinsically exciting because "it pays the bills". The book validated my long-term plan to slowly move to a work life more focussed on creative endeavours. It also made me more energized to work at putting this plan into effect in 2010 and beyond.

Darn! I always knew I had made a mistake in life...

by Graham Email

Note to airline passengers - wheeled baggage

by Graham Email

One of the continuing annoyances of boarding or leaving planes is the number of passengers who appear to believe that they can pull or push wheeled baggage down the aisle of a commercial jet plane.
The reality is that you cannot, at least not for any distance.
Wheeled baggage has small castoring wheels designed to allow the baggage to be pulled behind you. The wheels are self-steering in that they rely on the forward motion of the baggage to keep them in trail and pointing in the right direction. The small size of the wheels and their lack of ground contact results in poor longitudinal stability. The baggage will wander if the pull motion or diection is inconsistent, and it does not take much wander for the baggage to foul the seats. In addition, the clearances between the sides of the baggage and the seats are small - of the order of 1-4 inches. The growth in the size of baggage as a result of the TSA checks has made carry-ons larger and longer also.
I have yet to see a single passenger succeed in pulling a piece of wheeled baggage more than 4-5 rows on a plane before the baggage fouls the seats, which results in the passenger having to pull the baggage back, straighten it up and then try to continue. The fouling is usually a shock to the passenger since the baggage is behind them and they cannot see it wandering until it strikes a seat and usually stops, sometimes this results in the passenger tripping up also.
If you try to push baggage, which some people try to do, the results are far worse. Unless you push exactly straight and the wheel direction is exactly parallel to the direction of motion, the wheels will rapily deviate from the direction of travel, and very quickly your baggage will dive to the right or left. Given the limited baggage-to-seat clearances, this means that anybody trying to push wheeled baggage down an aisle is going to hit the seats within a matter of feet. However, it would appear that many passengers are unable to work through these realities.
I would like to see a rule that passengers should not push wheeled baggage, but instead carry it down the plane. This will be unpopular, especially now that many passengers are avoiding checking any baggage and instead using carry-ons for all of their luggage. However, if it could be enforced, it would speed up entry and exit from planes.

How to ensure that your Social Media strategy fails

by Graham Email


This article from BNet outlines eight ways in which your Social Media strategy can fail. Watching from within my current employer, I can see a number of these mistakes unfolding on a daily basis...

After today, Avis is fired

by Graham Email

I had an experience with Avis today at Sacramento Airport that has caused me to decide that I will not rent from them ever again unless I have no alternative. They are fired, period.
I am on a 3 month consulting engagement in Sacramento, Monday through Fridays. Last week (the first week of the engagement) I arrived in Sacramento and went to the Avis Preferred counter. When I presented my credit card and driver's license, I was asked for my Wizard number. I have had a Wizard number in the past, but it is not written in my PDA, so I told them. The lady at the Preferred counter hunted in the system, and finally said that my current credit card was not linked to a Wizard number, which is required. She gave me to understand that she had changed the linkage, and I got a car via the Preferred Desk with no delay.
Today, I walked into the Preferred desk and presented my credit card and drivers license once more. This time, the reaction was very different. The guy who I was dealing with curtly demanded if I had a Wizard ID. I said Yes. He looked it up online, was unable to find it, and asked if I knew what it was. When I said No, he handed me back my cards and said curtly "go to the main desk". No expression of regret, no empathy, just a brush-off. Not impressive.
I then had to wait in line for 25 minutes at the main counter, since Avis had only 2 agents trying to manage a queue. They clearly were having trouble keeping up with demand, because they kept calling around other rental companies asking about cars. When I finally got to the front of the queue, I mentioned my experience to the agent. Instead of an empathetic response, she replied in an offhand and irritated fashion "you can only get an ID by calling the Avis support desk". She then further irritated me by demanding that I produce my business card in order to get the EDS corporate rate for the rental. I pointed out that I booked the rental through the EDS Travel Portal, with a corporate discount code. This made no impact on her, she said "we have to see your business card". I produced a business card and the rental was processed.
I finally left the rental lot 30 minutes later than when I arrived.
This is simply not good enough. From the time I arrived this morning at the rental location, Avis treated me in a flip, rude and dismissive fashion. They just lost all future business from me. They are fractionally cheaper for corporate rentals, but that is meaningless if I have to wait 30 minutes and be treated like a lower form of life. I lost 30 minutes of office work time because they behaved like a collection of surly and unresponsive idiots.
Good riddance, Avis.

UPDATE - I received this response from Avis today:

Dear Mr. Shelvlin,

Thank you for contacting us through the Avis Website. Please accept my sincere apology for the delay in responding to your inquiry.

We are actively interested in and committed to providing the best all-around service for our customers. It is distressing to receive a report of this nature and to learn that you have found some aspect of your rental experience to be less than satisfactory.

Constructive criticism is appreciated and you may be assured that this matter is not being dismissed with my reply to you. A copy of your report has been forwarded to the responsible manager, with instructions to bring the location into compliance with our standards.

Avis is committed to excellence in providing our customers the best all-around service available in the car rental industry. Our customers?
satisfaction with our service is most important.

We view with extreme gravity any report of discourteous treatment of a customer, as there is never an excuse for bad manners. Under all circumstances, Mr. Shevlin our customers should be treated with respect and professionalism. We regret any breach of this standard made by the Avis agent with whom you spoke. Please be assured that corrective measures have been taken to prevent any recurrence.


Tara King
Avis Customer Service Representative
FAX: 918-270-2920

Having decided that this is a form letter, which does not contain any specific actions, or promises of action to rectify the appallingly dismissive way in which I was treated, my decision stands and Avis is fired.

An interesting article about a talk given by Scott Ambler

by Graham Email


This is an interesting summary of a talk given by IBM/Rational and Agile delivery leader Scott Ambler. Some of his comments read as rather contentious, but there is more than a grain of truth to most of them...

An excellent article in the Financial Times on capitalism

by Graham Email


This article by John Kay in the Financial Times starts with a discussion on the disappearance of Woolworths from the UK, but then broadens into a much more interesting and valuable discussion of how to sell (or not) capitalism in the current economic downturn. Some key points he makes:

But those who defend the market system are often the system's worst enemies. I recently listened to a group of businessmen deploring the anti-capitalist tone of much of what is taught in schools. They had a point. But they spoiled it by promoting a description of capitalism that was at once repulsive and false...
...They explained that in addition to the considerable salaries senior managers receive, large financial incentives were needed to persuade them to perform the duties that were attached to their jobs. In contrast, people who worked in the public sector mostly did so because they were too lazy or ineffective to get jobs in large corporations. They professed surprise that teachers did not relay these opinions to their charges. I understood why, and was relieved they did not.

Kay's summary is succinct and compelling:

Young people looking towards the world of work should understand that the greatest reward from a job is the satisfaction of doing it well. The people who are most successful in business in the long run are people who are passionate about business - whose aspirations are to bring new products and services to market, to serve customers better, to motivate their staff to greater efforts.

I am familiar with the stereotypical thinking patterns quoted by Kay in this article. They almost exactly match the thinking that I suffered from when interacting with my peers and their dumb-ass condescending parents, as the child of parents living in public housing. The stereotype of public housing occupants when I was growing up in the UK was a wearily familiar one; we were all feckless welfare-claiming layabouts who could easily buy our own house, but couldn't be bothered to, and we would rather spend the money on booze, fast cars etc. The reality of my parents working manual jobs and eking out the money was one that they did not even want to process. After all, why engage in critical thinking and comprehension when you can get out the stereotypical broad brush and write off whole groups of people as somehow less deserving?
One of the less attractive features of many business leaders in the last 18 months has been the extent to which they have been in denial about the massive gaps in opportunity and wealth that exist between them and people nearer the bottom of the ladder in society, and the extent to which those massive gaps are seen by many people as an indictment of capitalism, not a benefit. This has resulted in some classic "own goals" by leaders who have developed an entitlement mindset. The egregious stupidity exhibited by the Big Three automaker CEOs when they took private jets to Washington DC to ask for government money is but one example of this kind of mindset and the consequent dumb-ass behaviour. However, there are plenty of other examples on display.
One thing that I have tried to explain to friends and acquaintances here in the USA is that if captitalism is seen to be over-exploitative by electors, eventually those electors will vote for significant structural and governance changes. A classic example that I always cite is what happened in the UK immediately after the end of World War II, when the electors dumped Winston Churchill (by common consent one of the great wartime leaders) and the Conservative Party, and opted for socialism implemented by the Labour Party. One of the motives behind this voting change was a determination that business owners and land owners had been exploiting workers and the country, and the balance needed to be redressed. (Later, in the 1960's, the theme would be continued when Labour Party leaders derided the Conservative Party as "the party of tweed jackets and grouse moors").
The results of the UK's socialist period were mixed; one upside was the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, but one of the downsides was the introduction of confiscatory tax policies on businesses and wealthy people, which led to an era of tax avoidance and the decision by many creative and artistic people to live outside the UK. Many of the policies had long-term downsides and contributed to the gradual decay of the UK in the 1950's through the 1970's. Most people I explain this story to usually respond with a scoff to the effect that "this won't happen in the USA". My response is that it may well happen, if enough people see evidence of what they regard as gross exploitation, and they get angry enough about it.

Ah the wonders of airlines...

by Graham Email

This afternoon at DFW airport, American Airlines apparently lost our plane. I was booked on the 4.30 pm flight from DFW to Sacramento, terminal A gate 19. I arrived at the gate, to find what looked like a fine example of an aicraft parked at the gate. I thought this would be an on-time departure. No such luck. Before long the plane was pulled back from the gate, and the tannoy crackled to life with the news that our flight was delayed. The announcement might have said something about mechanical issues, but then again it could have said that the plane was being stolen for another flight...I was too far from the gate to hear the full story. Then the usual run-around commenced. At 4.15 pm we were shifted to gate 21, so we all trooped along the concourse and settled down for a wait. The gate agent at gate 21 claimed that the flight was delayed until 4.50 pm, but since we reached 4.50 pm with no sign of a plane at gate 21, it soon became apparent that we were now in Bullshit News territory.
The next announcement was that a plane was being rushed over from a hangar. Then came an announcement that the plane was trapped behind another plane in the hangar...this now had me convinced that somebody somewhere was making up BS excuses and passing them down. The gate agents apparently seemed to think so. After the last explanation, she paused and said "Sorry, I know it's not very good as an excuse but that's what we have got".
Eventually a plane showed up. Despite the gate agent request for people to get out of the way at the gate to let passengers on in group order, people kept hanging around getting in the way. What is it with some people that when they enter an airport they have to behave like total oorons? It is almost as if they leave their brains kerbside.
We eventually took off 1 hour and 15 minutes late. I was shoehorned into row 31, behind a lady who instantly deployed her seat recliner, but in front of a seat blocked by a baby carrier. So I could not use my laptop. Grrr. I contented myself with paper writing and listening to which tunes on the iPod are currently corrupted.

Interesting article about offshoring Business Analysis

by Graham Email


I found this article today about the feasibility and viability of offshoring Business Analysis. The discussion begins with this sobering paragraph:

Professor Albert Mehrabian’s communication model for verbal interaction states that for describing feelings and attitudes to something (taken, with apologies, from original LinkedIn discussion from Paul Anderson’s comment):

* 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken.

* 38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).

* 55% of meaning is in facial expression.

The immediate (possible) cost saving can be outweighed by costs that will emerge arising from poor analysis which will significantly outweigh the original cost savings.

The key conclusions of the article is that cost savings alone are a poor reason for offshoring this type of activity, and a number of other conditions need to be met for offshoring business analysis to succeed in the medium-term. I think that the article is not really that comprehensive, and there is scope for a more detailed study of how offshoring could be made to work for business analysis. I remain skeptical of the effectiveness of offshoring these types of solution delivery functions, because you run into all sorts of complications, ranging through time zones to differences in verbal language, body language etc. Having just come off a spell on an account dominated by offshore (Indian) resources, I have a very real understanding of how (for example) the word Yes has a very different meaning in different parts of the world.

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