On the road again

The call of the highway is always there for me.  Fortunately, my wife seems to enjoy long road trips as much as I do.  I’ve written about long road trips on a few occasions and as it’s the day before the first day a 3,000-mile drive, I am a bit nervous, excited and as my Dad would say ‘keyed’ up.  I actually wondered about that expression and found this:

The etymology or origin of the phrase is from the limited movement mechanical toys like the clapping monkey, which had a coiled spring inside that you wound up like an old-fashioned alarm clock, using a key in the back.

A monkey huh?  Ok I feel something like that, I guess. Working while living is better than living while working. And it’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. It’s kind of a thing.  Managing ongoing projects while out of the office is one thing, being in the car for 8 hours a day (more or less) is quite something else. It’s very different when you are not on a true vacation.  Work goes on and on. The way you work can change. Driving long distances does afford the opportunity for deep thought and the changing perspectives of the drive, I find, helps me look at things…differently.

I am surprised at my anticipatory excitement. It’s not like I haven’t done this for several years as this may be four or more years of long mid-winter excursions either west or south of New York City. Because I’ve had this trip to look forward to, the fact that it’s mid-January, mid-winter, has not really bothered me at all as I knew I was ‘Getting out of Dodge’.

Not everyone has the same appreciation for road trips as me. It’s amusing that even as recently as this week, when I mentioned that I was heading out on the road and would not be back in the area for over a month, people said – ‘You’re driving??!!’  As if that was an insane proposition.  This is invariably followed up with ‘I could never sit in a car for that long’, or ‘Why not fly and rent-a-car?’.  In truth you DO sit in a car for a long time and sometimes my back gets sore. Duh. Stretching and walking whenever possible helps. When I was 20 I could (and at times did) drive 16 hours a day by myself. I don’t do that anymore.

I think my apprehension/excitement is due in part to the uncertainty of the road. With today’s technology we are more secure than ever.  Planning the route, deciding where to have lunch and or dinner in various cities across the U.S., finding a hotel on the road, are all so easily managed with our handy little smartphones.  But there’s still some uncertainty. The car is fine, has been checked out, and should be fine for a 7,000-mile round trip. Of course, you can’t be 100% sure. Then there’s weather. Before we even leave, we have to consider that the weather on day 1 is not forecast to be good at all with snow and rain. We’ve built an extra ‘travel’ day in our schedule for that reason.  It’s uncertain.  That’s actually kind of exciting.

I look forward to the mornings on the road.  I’ve always enjoyed driving out at 7AM or even earlier as the sun rises.  It all kind of makes me feel a little pioneer-y, though a lot warmer than they were. Mostly I just like the idea that things for the next month or more will be different. I am not exactly sure how it will all work out but want to see how, and that’s what keeps me moving forward.

And for what it is worth, my clients can have confidence that I am thinking about their business all the time. Maybe too much of the time!

 

 

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Most jobs that can be done by a robot are not good jobs

All jobs that can be done by a robot instead of a human are, ultimately, vulnerable jobs.  That does not mean that all of those jobs SHOULD be done by robots.  The race for technological innovation has always been linked to human beings collective and individual behaviors being disrupted.  Even if we understand, it remains a very uncomfortable concept.  If you swap out the word android for robot it gets even scarier.

When I think about some of the jobs that I have seen go by the wayside in my lifetime, I often feel nostalgic.  However, once that nostalgic feeling passes it generally is apparent to me that those jobs were probably not good jobs the way people like to define good jobs today.  Perhaps it’s best if I give my personal definition of what constitutes a good job.

  1. You are for the most part engaged and interested in and with the work you are doing and the people with whom you interact on a day to day basis.
  2. You are paid somewhat commensurately with your contribution and experience and that amount is sufficient to pay for once and future living expenses.
  3. You have opportunities for career growth.

I realize I am casting a wide net in being so general but there are far too many opinions on engagement, compensation, and growth opportunities both personal and professional to which would be a deep discussion in and of itself.   And what constituted a good job fifty years ago would not and should not necessarily be the same.

What today would not be a good job in my mind?

  • Highway and bridge and tunnel toll collectors. Once a necessity, they are now a true dying breed.  Sitting or standing in booth for 8 hours receiving and handing over money and receipts while briefly interacting with people is not a good job and really it never was.
  • Gas Station attendants. This was a better job than a toll taker as it came with more interaction with the customer, but once drivers learned to pump their own gas the cost of having gas stations attendants became unnecessary. 
  • Truck drivers. There’s been so much talk about the huge amount of truck drivers in the United States who every day are more in jeopardy of losing their jobs to self-driving trucks.  There are more than 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States.  That’s more than 1% of the entire population!  The idea that driving a truck is a good job has always been lost on me.  Sure, you can be your ‘own’ boss.  Yet sitting (and then sleeping) in a cab for 12 hours a day combined with the monotonous nature of the job can no longer be considered a good job.

I left out low-paying customer-service oriented jobs like fast food, working at a big-box store or being a Lyft or Uber driver (since driverless cars will take most of those jobs anyway).  All involve interfacing with the public making the shift to robots more challenging.

How about Stadium ushers?  Not too long ago there were lots of stadium ushers.  You paid for a ticket, went to the ballpark and then were ‘shown’ to your seat which was ceremoniously wiped off with a dirty towel and you tipped the usher.  It was a pretty great job for the ushers as they also had the benefit of seeing the ballgame for free.  There do not appear to be as many today.  Was being a stadium usher a good job?  Yes in some ways.  Was it necessary?  In my view yes since it helped improve the ticket buyer’s experience (at least theoretically).  But clearly there was no opportunity for future growth and for most that was just fine.  You could be an usher for fifty years or more!

Not to go all sci-fi on you, but androids (robots) will eventually look like humans and perform robot functions and jobs.  But I feel that jobs in which people have need to regularly interact with customers (people) are not and should not be ceded to robots even if some companies might find that tempting.  Human interaction will be increasingly important in the coming age of AI, Androids and Robots.  When you eat in a restaurant the experience would be vastly different (and sterile and inhuman) if an android waiter took your order and brought your food.  At least then you would not feel bad about not tipping.

How about using robots/androids as schoolteachers?  Is it that horrifying?  Schoolteachers remain among the most underpaid group in the United States.  The various demands on teachers make it difficult for them to connect with each and every student.   Could an android teacher (who never gets tired or needs a day off) do better?  Would an android teacher not be able to recognize the ‘human’ indicators given off by students?  It’s too easy to think that an Android schoolteacher would be so inhuman that it would ultimately lead to society’s downfall.  Iterative artificial intelligence has already proved to outperform human beings in a variety of tasks and evaluations.  Emotionally I want human beings to teach my children.  But we’re a far cry from the days of the one-room schoolhouse and my intuition tells me that fifty years from now the way we will teach schoolchildren will be hardly recognizable to people of today.

Yet here’s the thing, being a teacher is in my opinion a GOOD job!  At least except for the low-pay aspect.  Being part of a community, helping students learn and positively influencing (ideally) the lives of students and their families is a giant responsibility societally and otherwise.  However, the notion that a teacher might get their degree and start teaching the 3rd grade at 23 years old and to continue doing that for 30 years without a large amount of additional training is an outdated concept at the least.

A good job once meant that you got paid on time for an ‘honest day’s work’ (whatever that meant), didn’t require much (if any) overtime, and was secure as long as the employee’s performance was not deemed consistently substandard.  This goes back to the Greatest Generation and was adopted by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.  Today few people expect to work for a company for ten years much less twenty or more.  The era of ‘worker free-agency’ is quite possibly the future where contracts are shorter, and people come and go with a certain amount of interchangeability.  This will make building company and corporate teams more challenging.  Not to mention accustoming people to always working without a net underneath.

At one time it was thought that being a cigarette girl was a good job.  I don’t imagine many people would think that today.  The idea of what constitutes a good job changes with time.  And as such, so must we all.

 

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Why I have always underestimated the benefits of bowling

Gallery-Entrance_700x700_acf_croppedNot far from where I live in the NYC suburbs, a new mall has opened which in and of itself is unusual in the U.S. today.  It’s easy to write about the demise of malls which has been mostly the result of the behavioral changes of Americans over the past fifty years.  Bowling in some ways has mirrored the heyday of malls as has its subsequent fall from being a pastime.

One of the ‘experiential’ stores that has opened at the new mall is a ‘classy’ and chic bowling place (not an alley) called Pinstripes, that serves quality food and drink.  I’ve not yet visited but my son has, and he reported that it was much nicer than he expected and will definitely go back.  There are just over a dozen units listed on the website.

The idea of bowling being part of a mall is not a new thing.  A number of years ago I visited a bowling place in a mall in Tampa called Splitsville, which was much the same concept – a bit more upscale, billiards, quality food and drink.  I thought that concept was cool and might catch on.  Splitsville is still around but only a half dozen units appear to be in operation.

From www.bowlingmuseum.comDuring the 20th century bowling gained rapidly in popularity.  In the early 1930’s after the end of prohibition, beer companies were looking for new venues of advertisement. Many teamed up with the Bowling Proprietor’s Association (BPAA) to promote their brand through the sport of bowling. Companies like Pabst, Hamm’s, Stroh’s, Meister Brau, Falstaff, and Anheuser-Busch sponsored semi-professional teams. The height of popularity for the beer teams was reached in the 1950s when bowling became televised regularly. Names like Dick Weber, Don Carter, and Ned Day became household names as these bowlers reached stardom.

The invention of the automatic pinsetter really helped bowling become a popular sport in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Particularly in colder climes.  People would sign up for bowling leagues where they would commit to showing up for 30 weeks on whatever night(s) and they’d bowl.  I know you’ve seen pictures.   I used to go bowling a few times a year but if I’ve bowled 5 times in the past 10 years I’d be surprised.  I am neither a good nor bad bowler and am completely fine with that.  Which is notable since there are few things in life about which I feel that way.

When I thought about it there are several things I like about bowling.

  1. Bowling is easy to learn and do for people from 4 – 100+
  2. Nobody cares if you are a lousy bowler. Once you have a couple of beers or drinks you care less too.
  3. When going out with a bunch of people you can never really tell who’s a surprisingly good bowler, or who’s a terrible bowler. Of course, as I noted above for some reason in bowling, nobody cares.
  4. Bowling does not take long and wearing the shoes is actually kind of cool even if you wonder who might’ve worn them last. But ignore that.
  5. If you lose at bowling, nobody cares.
  6. If you win at blowing, still nobody cares.

I have a hard time coming up with something to do with family, friends, and even business co-workers and associates besides bowling, that would be less aggravating and more fun.

Today many bowling alleys (I guess they are still called that), are quite a bit different from the musty, dirty, and dank places that were all over the U.S. for such a long time.  League bowling is not nearly as popular and renting lanes for an hour or more is becoming the standard.

Since it’s the holidays and families can sometimes spend just a little too much time together, allow me to recommend an excursion for all to an updated bowling center.   You will laugh more than you thought, and nobody will be aggravated with one another and people will have a good time.  Hopefully that bonhomie lasts throughout the holidays and into 2020.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa and my best wishes for a healthy and happy new year.

 

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Not all Boomers are OK Boomers

Memes can be funny and cutting at the same time.  But they can also generalize to the max. Given that I am a baby boomer I am very aware of the different ways Boomers process and react to the current work environment.  Because of the way Boomers came up through the ranks can be so different it cannot be expected that all end up feeling the same way.  That’s true of every generation before the Baby Boomers, and will be true for generations yet to come.

The article on NPR here addresses some of the general cluelessness of Baby Boomers.  I laughed a bit when I saw one millennial wrote that a Boomer with who she has casual professional contact noted ‘you look good today’.  And her reaction was – “And I’m like, that’s such a weird thing to say…”   So, by extension it’s a bit creepy to have someone you know note that you look good today?

As a late Boomer, here’s something that I am struggling with. Sometimes I compliment other men on their clothing, shoes or watch.  I have in the past (and not the distant past) complimented to women that ‘I liked your outfit’ or shoes or hair or whatever.  It didn’t seem creepy since it was simply meant as a genuine compliment, but now it’s viewed as creepy?  Times change.  We all must change with them.  But please excuse my sensitivity to an all-encompassing dis that is actually far from accurate or universal.  To wit, I still feel confident in holding doors open for people (men and women) and car doors for women (I’ve rarely done that for a man who wasn’t a relative).

Like every generation, Boomers come in ALL shapes, sizes and varieties.  It never dawned on me how it would be to be part of the ‘older’ and ‘out of touch’ generation.  For a long time I felt Boomers were kind of cool.  And it was more than just going to Woodstock.  Yeah, yeah, I know those days are over and people know that was a long time ago, but sometimes it’s ignored that not all Boomers behave in the same way.

‘OK Boomer’ lumps all Boomers together as one.  There are plenty of clueless Gen X’rs, Millennials and Gen Z’rs too.  To some degree people are all products of the environments in which they have experience.  Times and attitudes change, and some people are better at adapting to those changes than others.  Looking at life in the 1970’s and 1980’s via the lens of the 2010’s is going to reveal unenlightened viewpoints.  As would some of the American attitudes of the 1930’s and 1940’s might have looked to the subsequent Boomer generation.

30 years from now when the oldest millennials approach 70 years old some of the current viewpoints and attitudes will seem out of touch.  Meanwhile a meme has been born, and cashing in on it will have to happen in a hurry before OK Boomer becomes a forgotten phrase.

It cannot come soon enough for me.

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Flying without Free Wi-Fi isn’t as fun

Last Friday I flew on Delta to Florida and back up on Southwest Sunday morning. Neither plane had a video screen, both had an option to purchase Wi-Fi for the flight. Neither airline made me happy. I do appreciate the low prices generally offered by airlines and have written about the idea that airline costs are lower than they were 30 years ago. But costs are going up and services continue to be taken away.

I haven’t yet gone out of my way to fly only Jet Blue, which has had free Wi-Fi on its flights for nearly two years. But I am starting to think about it. Be assured that I won’t cut off my nose to spite my face as the saying goes, by paying more on a non-Jet Blue flight than the cost of Wi-Fi.

Airlines continue to find new an unusual ways to generate additional revenue. Like charging $15 for early access overhead bin space. You have Frontier Airlines in 2014 to thank for that. United this week reported that overhead bin space was being increased and that now you would pay $15 for it.

Not having video screens on planes is fine as that helps the airlines keep costs (fuel and system maintenance) down. But ALL planes should be equipped with Free Wi-Fi. No it’s not an inalienable right, but it should be standard. And at the same time it mollifies the passengers and keeps them quiet. Planes have never been quieter since nearly everyone is wearing headphones and watching something. Yes some still read but they’re quiet too!

When Jet Blue launched its Free Wi-Fi I posted that it was a smart move and would have to be followed by the other airlines. Nearly two years later I am amazed that this hasn’t yet occurred. Eventually all will feature Free Wi-Fi as the world and airline passengers will demand it.

When first boarding the plane this past weekend, I did not notice Wi-Fi being available and noticing that there no screens I started to think that I was flying back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Those were the days of dumb flights. And free but lousy food service. So at least Wi-Fi was offered and there was ‘Free’ content provided by the airline in the form of movies and TV shows etc.. But why both airlines were compelled to charge $8, (or more) for Wi-Fi still mystifies me.

 

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The key to survival is embracing your professional struggle

Most mornings I drive to a train station and hop on a commuter train heading to New York City from my town in the suburbs. I have lots and lots of company doing the same thing every day. Sometimes I see someone older than me getting on the same train heading to work just like me.  I used to think that it was a shame that that person was still commuting after working for so many years. Today it impresses me.

When I was younger I, like many, believed the goal was to be ‘done’ and retired at as young an age as possible. Getting down about the day-to-day professional struggles was something to try to avoid. What I’ve come to realize is that the daily struggle itself is something to embrace and not eschew. When you stop having to struggle with professional challenges (being very specific since there are many challenges physical, mental and otherwise that you always wish to avoid), there’s a good chance that you begin to lose your professional edge on the road to your likely future professional irrelevancy. That’s the way it goes for most people once they retire. There’s lots more ‘free’ time, but also there’s the loss of connection and energy that one gets from testing oneself on a daily bases.

Life is an unending series of challenges. We humans want to make things easier, for ourselves, and the people we care about. That’s always a good goal, but believe it or not we should not want to make things TOO easy. Overcoming challenges is fundamental to a feeling of accomplishment and personal growth. Why would you EVER want to stop doing that?

I am not blowing smoke here and realize that there are many circumstances where ‘embracing the professional struggle’ would seem laughable. When you have a lousy boss, or a less than stellar product or service you have to represent, or a totally dysfunctional team or situation, it’s just a pain in the neck every day. Yet you can manage to find ways to work around the problems to make it at least tolerable and in that process can learn something about yourself. Lifelong learning is something in which I strongly believe.

People work because they have an ongoing need to ….SURVIVE! When lucky people win a lottery (or an inheritance) most often the first thing they say or do is quit their job. Figuring out what to do next is often a bigger problem than they might have imagined. When I talk with my friends and colleagues about what they will do once they stop working at their current job, I ask them about what they plan to do ‘next’? At times it’s as if they’ve not really considered anything aside from stopping what they were doing. Which is fine. But stopping altogether means giving up the struggle and in the process you are giving up much more than you ever thought.

Work, struggle, win, lose, fight, decide to not fight now; all of these are part of a professional life and all combine to give your life meaning and forward motion. Struggling is key to your survival – now and forever.

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Offers that don’t motivate devalue the brand

Upon occasion I guest lecture at some NYC area universities and colleges. I talk about direct marketing and entrepreneurship and ask the students which is most important in direct mail – Creative? List? Offer? Do you know? All are important but not equally important. I’ll reveal the standard a bit later on but will focus on offers. Smart marketers know good offers motivate and compel action. But what about lukewarm and even lousy offers?

There are marketing efforts don’t make compelling offers. But they make them anyway. Take Lyft for example. I am not a regular Lyft user. I expect that I have less than 20 Lyft rides in a year. I expect that Lyft (a service I prefer over Uber for several reasons), has all the data on me from all my rides on Lyft over the past few years. Yet the offer Lyft continually makes (to me at least), is 10% off on up to 10 rides in the next week or two weeks etc. As if that would motivate me to choose Lyft rides more often. If my average ride is $10.00 Lyft’s offering me a whole dollar off is entirely un-motivating. For me it seems even a little desperate. My hope is that Lyft has evidence that this works with other riders, motivating them to choose Lyft either over Uber, a taxi or some other ride service, but call me skeptical.

What could Lyft do offer-wise that would be motivating? How about take 5 rides and the 6th one is free? Or 3 rides and the 4th one is free? And give me a month to do it since my behavior shows that I am unlikely to go from 1 ride a month to 10. If the idea is to get me to be a more regular rider something more compelling has to be put in front of me.

Hotels are not particularly good at making compelling offers either. Giving me a ‘free night’ after I’ve spent 3 or 4 nights isn’t an awful offer as potentially ‘saving’ more than $100 is attractive. Until you remember that you’ve already spent several hundred dollars at a non-discounted rate to get that deal. I don’t remember ever jumping at an offer for a ‘free’ night as almost all the time it’s not the best deal available.

Less than great offers do not reflect well on brands. I feel that if a compelling offer is not on the table, most brands are better off not making an offer at all. Deliver a great customer experience on all counts, don’t promise more than you can deliver (over-deliver as my colleague Brian Kurtz will tell you), and let the chips fall where they may.

And the answer to the question is – list always takes precedence over creative and offer. You can have a great offer or deliver great creative to the wrong people and it will most likely fail.

Offers that don’t motivate are not worth making.

 

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