I’ve joined TA Digital, a Customer Experience and Digital Transformation agency!
Teaming up with this extraordinary 20-year-old agency will give me new opportunities to build and deliver capabilities for our clients in Customer Insight Generation, Personalization and Advanced Analytics.
It’s 2021 and hopefully we’ll all soon be back to some semblance of normalcy. For me that will mean spending roughly a third of my time on the road. Maybe you as well. Airports, hotels and rented cars can be sources of considerable frustration. So as my gift to you, my fellow road warrior, I offer five of my tips to make your life on the road a little more pleasant.
1. Print your ticket, ideally on your home printer and not at the airport
Many of my colleagues, seasoned travelers all, find this one baffling. “Hey,” they say. “We all have cell phones. So why not just use the airline app to present and scan my ticket when I check in?”
What’s more, I prefer printing my tickets at home and not at an airport kiosk. The reason has to do with redundancy. If I should forget to print my tickets prior to grabbing an Uber to the airport, I can always use a kiosk as a back-up. But countless times I’ve arrived to find many of my airline’s kiosks out of order, or all of them occupied.
Redundancy is also behind bringing something printed as opposed to using the app.
We all know Murphy’s Law. Exactly when you most need your cell phone to work, it doesn’t. I’ve been in a line of stressed-out travelers boarding a flight when someone’s cell phone wouldn’t turn on. And once the phone of the guy in front of me — just as he was about to swipe his bar code — received a phone call!
He needed to manually disregard the call to free up his screen.
Speaking of calls, another time I was one of the last off of my plane and had to make an urgent one. I dialed right at the gate, only feet from the departure door. Picture me waiting on hold when I saw a familiar passenger — a guy who had sat a dozen rows ahead of me — literally run back to the woman posted at the jetway door.
He explained that he had left his phone on the plane. The woman at the gate asked to see his ticket, because only those with a ticket could get back on — even to look around. He explained his ticket was the barcode on his phone! He had to wait until the cleaning crew was done. If they didn’t find his phone, they’d send someone back there to look specifically for it.
My phone call was completed well before he was (I presume) re-united with his phone. If only he had a paper ticket!
2. Always carry a bottle of non-prescription Afrin
I learned this lesson the hard way. Years ago I agreed to fly across the country on short notice, to fill in for a colleague who had a family emergency. I was to arrive on Day #1, learn her part in a presentation the team was preparing to give to a client (in an effort to win a large contract) on Day #2, and finally I’d present my 15 minutes of our proposal on Day #3.
When I agreed to this trip I was recovering from a mild head cold. No big deal. But when I boarded my first flight on Day #1, I was still a little stuffy. I needed to connect with a second flight to complete my trip. That means two take-offs and concomitant cabin air depressurizations, and two landings and re-pressurizations.
By the time I arrived at my destination I was in agony. Residual moisture and the germs contained therein was driven deep into my ear canals and sinuses.
Nothing helped. I even tried an improvised neti pot! The night of Day #2 I finally went to an urgent care at 1 a.m., coughing and congested. I was diagnosed with sinusitis and bronchitis. My presentation on Day #3 was a disaster, since the antibiotics and decongestants has little time to work.
But along with the meds, that wonderful physician who wrote out my scripts told me about Afrin.
It can be habituating, so use this over-the-counter topical decongestant sparingly. But when I think I’m even the least bit stuffy, I’ll take this miracle drug’s small squirt bottle — always in my packet of liquids ready to pass through TSA screening — and transfer it to my jacket pocket before boarding. Then, while we are taxiing on the runway, a couple of squeezes and I’m assured of never having another cabin-pressure-induced incident. I repeat the process on preparing to land.
3. Our personal transponders love to stow away in rental cars. This invention prevents forgetfulness!
This tip is the transponder equivalent of lashing a huge block of wood to a gas station bathroom key. I invented this device when I forgot — more than once, I confess — to take with me the transponder I owned in a car I was renting!
For those who haven’t rented a car in a while, they all come now with their own toll booth transponders. But the upcharge they attach when you use one is insanely inflated. So to spare my clients that ridiculous expense, I bring my personal vehicle transponder.
This is the device that makes sure I don’t drop off the car without grabbing it!
I’d gotten a free selfie stick at a conference. It remained unused (I’m not much for self-portraits) until I realized how I could create this travel hack. I affixed my transponder with a stout rubber band.
Behold! A retractable wand small enough to fit in an outside suitcase pocket, yet easily extended and jammed snugly into the crook of a rented car windshield!
4. Never again leave clothes in a hotel dresser drawer
And before you, gentle reader, fault me (and him) for being careless, consider his follow-up tweet: “Obviously, only a moron uses the drawer, but when you’re on a longish stay you need that sense of normalcy.” I agree.
I’m sure there are other solutions to this problem, but this is mine:
Similar to the transponder hack, this makes leaving without the item(s) difficult or impossible. I always travel with a pair of running shoes. And to make my suitcase less bulky and able to hold more clothing, I pack the shoes for departure with clean socks jammed into them. It ensures there is no wasted space caused by the holes where my feet would go!
When I’m staying Monday-through-Thursday (which is typical for me), I’ll collect my used socks and underwear in a dedicated hotel drawer. It would be easy with such small items to leave them behind, except I have developed this shoe-stuffing habit. Of course upon returning home my socks are dirty. (And don’t be grossed out: Remember, my shoes held those dirty socks earlier, while I was wearing them.)
The point is I cannot pack my running shoes without first retrieving my clothing from the drawer. I’ve never left my clothing behind since!
5. Pay for an airline lounge and get your money’s worth
Some employers reimburse road warriors for the cost of an annual pass to use an airline’s lounges. Most do not, but I’m here to say that’s okay. Fork out the money … and then use those lounges for all they’re worth.
Here’s what I mean: Instead of arriving a hour before my flight, I might arrive two hours in advance and eat my breakfast in the lounge. The food isn’t terrible, and most provide convenient work spaces. You’ll be less stressed, and ready to act fast should your flight be cancelled or moved.
When I fly back from a week away, I’ll reverse the process:
My United Lounge pass would allow me access even on days when I’m on the return leg of my journey. So I’ll often go to the lounge before going home and have dinner there. Again, the food isn’t bad, and it’s free with the annual fee to get in. Plus, I can then time an Uber ride back to my Chicago apartment when traffic from the airport is least terrible, making my car ride as brief as possible.
I hope you find these tips useful. Fingers crossed you and I will be able to put these to practice in early 2021!
But mental and political borders hinder Salter Sink deployments
The year 2020 has many claims to infamy. Of course there is the emergence of Covid-19, and unprecedented threats to U.S. democracy. But if that weren’t enough, let’s discuss the hurricanes. This year we had so many strong tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean, we needed to move from proper names to Greek letters. According to NOAA:
This is the fifth consecutive year with an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, with 18 above-normal seasons out of the past 26.
Record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season draws to an end, NOAA.gpv
We can blame — at least in part — climate change. This Economist cover article about our warming planet is accompanied by one of the best data visualizations I’ve ever encountered. Atlantic hurricanes gather their force from extremely warm surface temperatures. Eighty degrees Fahrenheit is the magic number needed to birth one of these devastating storms.
Many ideas have been tried to cool things down and otherwise disperse hurricanes. But there is one that shows dual promise: An invention by University of Edinburgh professor emeritus Stephen Salter could relatively cheaply take the wind out of hurricanes while also oxygenating the warm seawater. This second feature is promising because as seas warm, they hold less oxygen, creating dead zones such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico. Dead zones kill fish and other important marine life.
Imagine a plastic grocery bag the size of an athletic stadium. The mouth of this “sink” is kept circular, and at the surface of the sea, by employing a rigid lip and inexpensive floats. The bottom of the sink is also open, and has weights to make it stay well below the water’s surface. Unlike the top, the bottom opening has a valve mechanism. Water can flow down and out, but not back in and up.
When waves crash over the lip, warm water is pushed downward. That mixes the water with a much cooler layer. Over time a Salter Sink will replace warm surface water with cooler water that hurricanes hate and fish love.
To be effective, the U.S. would need to deploy thousands of these devices, out in deep water, and tether them to anchors or drone-like devices that would counter tidal drifting. The illustration at the top of this is from the patent application, showing where they could be placed to be most effective.
Mental and Political Borders
Estimates are that their deployment would cost somewhere near a billion dollars, and in their first year alone could save tens or even hundreds of billions in property damage and citizen displacement. This doesn’t include the seemingly inevitable loss of life that comes with a devastating hurricane.
So why aren’t we trying Salter Sinks?
I suspect the problem is a combination of mental laziness and opposition to government spending that could be targeted as wasteful or considered in part aid to neighboring countries. (Remember that threat to our democracy I mentioned at the top? It comes with populism that reasons, weirdly, that anything we spend taxpayer money on should only benefit the U.S.)
If I’m right, it’s a paucity of both imagination and generosity that will keep us bailing out hurricane-devastated regions of the U.S., year after tragic year, instead of investing far less money in prevention.
I’m reminded of that old joke, “Everyone complains about the weather. But do you hear about anyone doing something about it?”
In this rare instance, our country actually could.
Now being test-marketed in Singapore, their lab-grown chicken nuggets (made with other plant-based ingredients) have found a way to scale production of meat from chicken stem cells.
They’ve also addressed the “yuck factor” that can hinder consumer trial by emphasizing the humane nature of their product. “No-kill” is brilliant marketing.
Saving Our Planet While Sating Our Desire for Meat
What you might not realize is the life that is saved may be our climate, and possibly our very species. As I described in detail in my 2011 post, raising livestock not only harms our environment to the extreme (greenhouse gases, deforestation, fresh water depletion) but our very gut biome (the majority of antibiotics are used on livestock and not humans). And don’t forget the horrific working conditions that seems to be intractable within the factory meat industry.
For these reasons, I’m optimistic that we are finally making progress in addressing our evolutionary hunger for meat with products that do not introduce death throughout the farm-to-table equation.
It’s self-evident that humans evolved from other creatures. We are not that genetically different from many other creatures, big and small. Consider chimps and bonobos. They possess DNA that matches ours to an extraordinary extent — 98.7 percent by one estimate.
So it stands to reason we can learn much from our animal peers. As long as the lessons aren’t mediated by really bad nature documentaries. I was reminded of this when I sampled a recent series on Netflix, Night On Earth.
We clearly have differences in motivation than, say, an ant. Or even a bonobo. But so often in these types of documentaries, the editing and narration urge the audience to think of these creatures as just different looking people. People with, you know, pincers. Or female sexual swellings.
I suspect this is why My Octopus Teacher — also on Netflix — is such a popular phenomenon. It dwells on the differences between the two creatures in the story (human, octopus — always in that order). You recognize curiosity and caution in both of the protagonists. But you never forget these species are different in extraordinary ways.
The ending helps to drive this home. No spoilers here, but it emphasizes that animals aren’t people. But people are animals.
It’s easy for us to turn our backs on the struggle of Blacks in the U.S. I applaud and admire her decision to join others who are calling out discrimination where it exists. I also just supported her and her show by becoming a Patreon contributor.
On the eve of the U.S. Presidential election, it’s a fitting reminder that after we’ve cast our ballots, there are other even more consequential ways we can seek justice and equality. I for one have been given tremendous opportunities that I know have for too long been denied others.
Let’s keep the fight for remedying injustices and systemic racism alive by questioning the status quo and making thoughtful, peaceful sacrifices for positive change.
It’s been called, in the excellent business bookWeekend Language, the lovechild of Powerpoint and Twitter, but may more accurately be called “public speaking meets speed-dating.” Each presenter has exactly six minutes and 40 seconds to tell their story. Pecha Kucha Nights, held in over 300 cities worldwide, typically pack ten-to-twelve speakers into the program. Folks new to the format tend to stumble out of their first event giddy with the muchness of it all.
Pecha Kucha Strength Training for Business
The reason putting together a Pecha Kucha (PK) is so useful for storytelling is the constraints it demands, and thus the need for thorough planning and rehearsal. Typically, when a novice at storytelling is asked to assemble and present some slides, they create way too many and meander through them. In the words of Weekend Language‘s authors, these newbies “bore the snot” out of their audiences.
At an Accenture Storytelling Club meeting (yes, my employer’s Chicago Digital Hub really has such a thing), the club members decided, after watching one of my PKs, that they’d take a shot at their own ersatz Pecha Kucha “night” to hone their presentation skills. So everyone who was willing to try one committed to crafting their own, and was added to the club meeting lineup.
The pressure was on.
The group asked me for suggestions on how to do their very best PK. As I listed the steps I recommended they take, reproduced below, notice how those steps also describe the process you’d follow for any professionally presented talk.
Or for that matter, any elevator pitch to your boss or client.
Five Steps to Storytelling Excellence
Begin with the end in mind. Your audience won’t remember much from the very best presentations. So think hard about the key points you want you audience to retain, and especially: The key feelings you wish to impart. “Feelings” you say? In business? Yes. Do you want to inspire your audience? Persuade them? Prepare them for something on the horizon? You’ll only effectively deliver your key points if they are transmitted on a “signal” of human emotion.
Consider the amount of detail that’s needed. With a PK, you only have 20 slides, and 20 seconds per slide. But what if you were given 20 minutes? Or 50 minutes, like this talk I co-presented with a client colleague in Las Vegas two years ago? You cannot over-pack the presentation or your audience will retain little of it, even if they’re taking furious notes. Less common is the situation where you have too little information to convey given the time necessary. In a case like this, you may want to consider adding an interactive quiz (I’m a personal fan of Kahoot for cell phone enabled quizzes) or some other way to use that extra time to emphasize one or more of your points — while keeping your audience smiling and nodding in agreement.
Focus on the words over your visuals. Have you noticed how tightly scripted your favorite TED Talks are? How there isn’t a wasted word? That’s not an accident. If you enjoy listening to podcasts, I strongly recommend this Slate Money episode, where Weapons of Math Destruction author Cathy O’Neil discusses the insane amount of work she and her director went through to polish her TED Talk to perfection.
Practice in front of volunteer audiences. Here I can imagine an objection from you, along the lines of “But my talk is too technical. My friends and family would never understand it.” I’ve got news for you. If you don’t write your presentation with enough breadcrumbs to help those not familiar with certain jargon or concepts, you’re not done yet. Without “talking down” to your audience, you should define — or ideally, eliminate — all jargon. I’ve presented to my share of CEOs, usually in one-on-one or small settings, and every one of them has made it clear that they expect a simple, crisp story. If you hear, “I didn’t understand XYZ,” find a way to make XYZ something they can grasp. Make it understandable to anyone. Which leads to the last step …
Iterate. Every time you present to a new audience, you’ll see other cues to what you could improve. Or you’ll receive valuable notes. I certainly did, in the presentation draft shown below. In fact, a far earlier version of this was presented in front of two dear friends, and afterwards they had this tip: “You talk about you and your wife at the time of this story, but we never see you two. Include a photo, early on, to help us better identify with you both.” That was outstanding advice I could have never gotten if I rushed my presentation to the stage!
Embedded below is the version just before it was ready for PK Night. I presented the content you see in embedded video below (live — this recording was made as a rehearsal mechanism). It was presented to an audience of one. She really understands clear communication. She’s co-founder of a Chicago puppetry production company. Her note: Early on, give the audience permission not to understand some of the one-panel cartoons that are shown. Great advice when the audience is both listening and reading, in 20-second bursts! You can see the final version, presented at Martyr’s in early March of this year, here.
But here’s the near-final draft:
The key lesson for business-minded speakers? If you want a story to be easy to understand, put in the work. And consider a Pecha Kucha!
Those who know me well are aware I’ve been through some difficult times. To be clear: I’ve never for a moment forgotten the undeniable advantages I’ve had, by the era of my birth (Boomer here), the color of my skin and yes, my very maleness. But I’ve had tests in my life. And I’m writing to you now as a bearer of consolement. I bring you hope in these dark times. Maybe even joy.
You be the judge.
As I write this my friends are reeling from the news of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s the latest calamity this year and it comes when we all know more are on their way. Like a prize fighter on the ropes, with no referee in sight to stop the pummeling, that ruthless brute “2020” has landed some horrible blows and shows no sign of relenting.
We’ve just surpassed 200,000 deaths from Covid, before even the arrival of the flu season
The U.S. West is only in the middle of its fire season and already the devastation has sprawled beyond a combined area the size of Connecticut
Hurricanes drown other parts of our country
But of course there is more.
I fear, as I’m sure you do, for the very integrity of our democracy, while a vocal minority of our country nods approvingly toward fascism and insists Black Lives Matter has no place in our social discourse because, Why? Fake news? False equivalencies? I can still hear the booing from many in the audience for the opening NFL game when players and coaches linked arms or took a knee in a moment of silence and solidarity.
It’s as if our country has lost its mind, and one wing of the asylum is burning while another is flooding.
To quote a song from King Leer, “The rain, it raineth every day.”
The healing power of The Mary Ellen Carter
At around the time of his death in the mid-80s, my wife (at the time) and I became familiar with Stan Rogers. His folk music endures. At that time, when we first heard his song The Mary Ellen Carter, my wife was extremely sick with a debilitating chronic illness and I was barely making due with freelance consulting work. Times were bleak. (This was just before we scraped up enough money to move to Milwaukee. What came next was discussed in this speech to a Chicago audience, at the most recent Pecha Kucha Night.)
We loved this song, and eventually recorded it onto a cassette tape off of public radio. That tape got a lot of use. It was a source of healing, and inspiration.
When I stopped my marathon work sessions, and our low moods seemed to find no bottom, we would play this song, over and over if necessary, until we moved from holding each other and crying to loudly singing the refrain.
Maybe you will too.
So here is my advice to you: Play this song during or just after your tears, when what you need is a tonic to help you get ready to fight anew. There were other rallying cries for us back then (I’m thinking of Kenneth Branagh’s St. Crispin’s Day speech in the film Henry V), but none as reliable as this.
Here it is, played live as part of a documentary, prefaced by a brief explanation of the power of the song’s refrain. As one man recounts, it may have saved his life, as he faced a death by drowning or hypothermia in a swamped lifeboat.
Photo credit from this post. I hope the author(s) don’t mind.
This morning a friend sent me an email with an attached video. In that clip, it showed a press conference where a health official defined a death by Covid-19 as, “at the time of death, the person has tested positive for Covid.” The video voice-over then said that this means if the infected person got in a car wreck or fell off of a cliff, that person was considered a Covid death.
This is a friend who should know better.
The temptation is to hit delete — to say nothing in order to preserve the friendship. But this has been a tough weekend for me. It seems much of the country is facing bleak news by trying conspiracy theories on for size. I’m not that sort, and instead (I guess) am coping … by being a scold. I hit Reply and wrote a response.
And guess what? I didn’t feel better afterward, but maybe me sharing facts with my friend will stop him from spreading toxic videos. If you’d like to join me in my role of scold, here are the facts I shared, in this excerpted email response.
Spread these facts and their underlying logic freely, because other people are spreading distortions at a far greater rate!
I’m sorry, but this is propaganda, not humor.
It talks about how if you die in a car accident while diagnosed as having Covid, it’s considered a Covid death. Hospital emergency rooms are not over-run with people who’ve been in car crashes or falling from cliffs. They’re full of people who would have been co-existing with — successfully managing — chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes, but now are gasping for their lives and dying alone.
Remember Ronald Reagan’s “Welfare Queen,” Linda Taylor? He used it as an example of the rampant abuse of the welfare system, and it worked. Yes, she did abuse the system. But she was a statistical outlier, used by Reagon’s campaign to prove some outrageous trend. Here’s the truth:
This morning I’m seeing Twitter blowing up with “plandemic truthers” using CDC statistics to somehow minimize the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans … A number that’s currently three times the number of Americans killed in action during the entire Vietnam War.
People spreading these “what-about-isms” are unknowingly carrying water for those who would prefer to wish this pandemic away — or worse, those who are trying to pit people against each other. It’s a tactic refined by the KGB, which is Putin’s old training ground:
The cause of slowing Covid deaths wasn’t helped by speakers at this week’s Republican National Convention. They intentionally referred to Covid in the past tense. That’s while 1,000 Americans every day were dying of having Covid while getting into auto accidents, or falling off cliffs. Or being old, or having heart disease or diabetes.
As I mentioned on the phone when you and I we were last chatting, pandemics produce a byproduct: Conspiracy theories.
The information bubble that some Americans talk themselves into is alarming, and is likely responsible for the fact that the U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but 25% of Covid cases.
Who knew the U.S. had so many car accidents compared to the rest of the world? Or cliffs?
If you’re socializing today, and talk to people about how Covid patients are dying of underlying conditions and not Covid, you might want to throw in one more underlying condition that has nothing to do with the virus — except it has everything to do with it. That’s the spike in suicides among emergency workers:
Yes. None of these nurses caught the disease. They just inconveniently took their lives at a time when they were working double shifts in extremely dangerous conditions with patients who were thoughtlessly dying — unable to say goodbye to their families except over a cell phone — at unprecedented rates.
(And somehow these dead healthcare workers aren’t being tallied as yet another subset of Covid deaths — certainly they should also be counted, right? As well as the people who are postponing cancer screenings while cancer was growing inside them, or those with heart attack symptoms who aren’t seeking help because they’re afraid they’ll catch the virus in a hospital? Their deaths aren’t included in our Covid statistics. Maybe that’s why experts say our current 180,000 deaths is actually an underestimate, not some willful exaggeration.)
So, I guess you shared this video with the wrong person, huh? 🙂
In that New York Times article, Andy Lamey writes that the timing of this semantic question is far from coincidence. “Lawmakers know that plant-based meat substitutes have become big business: In 2019, plant-based meat sales totaled $939 million, an 18 percent increase over the year before, while sales for all plant-based foods reached $5 billion. The real reason for the meat industry’s interest in grocery labels is that it is threatened by this surge in popularity.”
When those interested in maintaining the status quo start firing up the lobbying machines, you know they are perceiving a real threat. The story of lab-grown meat is starting to get more than just academic. In that press release on lab-grown “McNuggets,” put out by KFC, they remind us of what’s at stake:
Biomeat has exactly the same microelements as the original product, while excluding various additives that are used in traditional farming and animal husbandry, creating a cleaner final product. Cell-based meat products are also more ethical – the production process does not cause any harm to animals. …
According to a study by the American Environmental Science & Technology Journal, the technology of growing meat from cells has minimal negative impact on the environment, allowing energy consumption to be cut by more than half, greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced 25 fold and 100 times less land to be used than traditional farm-based meat production.
The coming few years will be interesting to watch.