Golfers! Do you need a reminder?

My bright orange reminder

My bright orange reminder

This isn’t one of my typical posts.  It isn’t about digital strategy or corporate culture or anything to do with new media.  However, if you are a golfer, or know one, read on.

When I was young, I remember my mother asking my father to remember to do something the next day.  It might have been a call he needed to make, a letter he needed to mail or something like that.  As a successful businessman, he had plenty on his mind and my mother’s requests were often forgotten until a few reminders later. You see, like me, my father suffers from an ephemeral memory (figuratively of course) and chances that he’d forget my mother’s requests were always pretty good.  But, he devised a system. He would switch his wedding ring to his other hand as a reminder.  The next day, he’d see the wedding ring on the “wrong” hand and remember “oh, yea, I have to mail that letter (or whatever)….”  Simple right?  He still does it today and I must admit, so did I until my iPhone took over my life.

Fast forward to me playing golf.  I always forget the best gold lesson I ever had.  My instructor told me to line up and take a swing.  He saw me run through my routine; legs bent, arm straight, line up here, head down…blah blah.  You know the drill.  After four or five shots, he said “stop”.  As I looked at him, all stressed out, he said “you’ve been programmed all wrong; just relax and swing through.”  He then made me take about fifty swings with no ball; back and forth, casually, just relaxing.  After fifty swings, he put a ball down and said “keep swinging” and I nailed the next ten shots hundreds of yards each – all straight. 

It turns out I was too wrapped up in the “what to do” that I forgot to relax and swing through.  Golf game fixed, right? No.  I think I only remember to relax and swing through half the time.  The other time I’m focused on the “straight arm, head down” nonsense or frankly, chatting it up with my buddies and I am a little too loose.  

A month or so ago at a neighbor’s house, she told me about her new start-up; SwingThought.  Seriously, it’s a colored rubber bracelet you wear when you play golf.  Its sole purpose is to remind you of things.  It comes in different colors and sizes and they come with different sayings in large white letters; “Swing Smooth,” “Tempo,”  “Focus” and others.  She dropped a few off at my house for me to try out (yes, for free).

I have to admit, at first, I thought this was silly.  I thought to myself “yet another Lance (Armstrong) copycat.”

Then I wore one to my next golf outing. There it was, a bright orange rubber bracelet that read “Swing Smooth.”  Every time I got up to the tee, I relaxed and took a breath and remembered my instructor. 

I shot a much better game.  No, it wasn’t perfect, but I love my bracelet. I wear it each time I play   See www.swingthought.com if you want one for yourself.


Experiment: Bahamas Vacation…Unplugged

Bahamas ’11; Unplugged
 

A month or so ago, we took a vacation to the Bahamas.  It came a time when I really needed it, so I was excited.  We headed to the Cove at Atlantis; what I considered to be the perfect place for a quick family getaway.

If you know me, you know I like to be connected via technology.  So, packed with me or on my person was my iPhone, blackberry, iPad, Kindle and laptop.  Some of you, I’m sure at this point, are already saying this is too much stuff, but you should know I was in the middle of some important stuff at work so I was just trying to be prepared, hence the laptop.  I had no intention of sitting on my laptop during a week-long, family vacation.  I had intended on using my other devices though.

When we checked in to the hotel, we immediately headed to the pool and beach area, just to walk around and get some fresh air.  As we walked around the pool, all I could see were parents reading some electronic device while their kids (and iPhone-less nannies) played around them.  Honestly, 80% of them or more were reading some sort of digital device, be it a phone or iPad. It hit me at that point; they were indeed connected, but they were completely disconnected from their kids.  A family vacation, I thought, should mean 100% connection with my family (okay 97%). I didn’t want to be that dad who was always looking at his iPhone instead of engaging with his kids on vacation.

When we got to the room, I put all my devices in the safe and planned not to look at a single one (short of two quick daily glances for emergency emails from work on my blackberry) for the entire trip.  For me, that meant no photo sharing of pictures on Facebook, no witty comments on twitter, no blogging, no Foursquare check-ins, no reading my digital edition of USA TODAY, no nothing.  It also meant no music and that I was going to have to carry a digital camera; you know, the old-fashioned kind where you have to take out the mini-SD card and download the pictures to a computer (gasp).

As I put everything into the safe, I knew it was going to be hard, but at the same time, I was embarrassed that the process was taking such a conscious effort.  I thought to myself, “why is it such a big deal to disconnect from the world for six days?” 

On the morning of the first day, we lathered up the kids in sunscreen, put on some shorts and t-shirts over our bathing suits and headed down to breakfast.  Along the way, the kids had so much fun stopping to look at the beautiful assortment of fish and sea creatures the Atlantis offers at every turn.  The Cove, specifically, has a phenomenal collection of African cichlids; beautiful tropical fish from Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika. I used to breed this variety of tropical fish when I was young (as a business – more on that some other time) and I was fascinated by the color, quantity and size of the fish. This kids and I couldn’t stop looking at them in the open ponds.  I took many pictures of the kids looking and pointing at the fish. The kids were all smiles and I loved their fascination with the fish.  Under normal conditions, this would have meant me taking pictures with my iPhone and immediately posting a few on Facebook for friends and family to enjoy.  Given my “unplugged” experiment, I took out my digital camera and snapped away.  Friends and family would have to wait for Facebook pictures.

At breakfast, the “connected” were reading a variety of devices. Given the time of day and the abundance of flowing coffee, I assumed all were reading their favorite periodicals, though some even had iPads on the table to allow their toddlers a chance to catch up with cartoons.  I however, was “news free” and frankly, happy to be (though I did feel a little twinge for at least a bit of ephemeral political information). The family and I enjoyed a nice breakfast, each enjoying something different from the amazing buffet offered at the Cove, ranging from pancakes to Eggs Benedict to Cheerios to crepes. The selection of food available, I thought, was amazing and worthy of a picture.  Hey, I’m in the travel / technology business, so sharing any type of travel info is basically what I do for a living; I don’t go anywhere without gathering travel information on rooms, views, restaurants and more.  But this time I simply didn’t take a picture. It seemed silly; taking a quick picture with a phone is one thing – you can do that in five seconds.  Taking a camera out of case to take a picture seemed like a bit more effort than I wanted to make.

After breakfast we headed to the pool and all the “connected” parents were already deep into their devices.  Some laid on their backs with arms stretched straight up, holding Kindles.  Most others were sitting up, baseball caps or hat visors pulled down while they read their phones or iPads.  I walked, as my camera (hung around my neck by its cord) bounced in front of me with each step.  We situated ourselves and I immediately took some pictures of the kids.  They looked so cute in their suits and hats.  Snap, snap, “cheese”, snap some more.  Within a few minutes, I had a nice collection of candid and posed pictures. The camera then went back into the case.  By now, in addition to Facebook posts, I would have normally texted a few pictures to my parents and sister so they could appreciate the moment, but they’d have to wait.  (Little did I know however, they’d still be waiting.)

We swam and eventually came time to lounge on the chaise for a bit of rest.  At that very moment, I had a great urge to reach for my blackberry and iPhone.  Amazing I thought; a moment of “rest” to me caused me to look for a phone.  Hmmm, that can’t be good.  So, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sun for what seemed like an eternity but was actually about four minutes. I’m not a sun worshiper (any longer) and I really wanted something to read.  If I had my iPhone with me, I thought to myself, I’d be reading USA TODAY and the Wall Street Journal. But, I didn’t. So I sat there for another five minutes.  The kids played busily in front of us, just five feet away. They were enjoying one another.  That too, I thought, was vacation. Daddy didn’t have to be involved in everything.

The day and days went on with more fun, more meals, more sea life and great events like building sand castles, searching for seashells and walks on the beach and, of course, since I was traveling with kids,  more than a few “share that with your brother/sister” type instructional comments.

During the vacation, the urge to reach for the blackberry took about two days to break.  The desire to read the iPad for news took longer. The urge to check-in (like at dinner at Nobu) broke quickly.  Finally, the urge to take a quick picture on my iPhone and post or text it really never went away.

Our vacation ended weeks ago. I’ve only just download the pictures to my computer and my parents and sister still haven’t received any images of our vacation.  I’ll have to get to that. My Facebook friends may never see anything more than the pic or two I posted.

So, what did I learn from my “unplugged” vacation experiment? A lot.  Okay, specifically three things:  First, I’ll admit it, I’m too connected sometimes.  I’ll give you that. My kids’ image of me clearly includes me always looking at some device. I know this because at one paint, Sophie asked me “Daddy, where’s your phone?” That’s bad.  I want them to remember me looking at them, into their eyes, not eyes down, glued to a blackberry or iPhone.

Second, I re-confirmed I truly enjoy technology. I love what it can do and how it connects people. I now live so far away from my sister and parents, which is heartbreaking to me, and I love how I can share quick, impromptu images of my kids with them.  They too, love this.  Facebook has also allowed me to connect with distant family around the world and this is amazing to me.

Finally, I have learned that some people just don’t get it.  I get so many comments (both positive and negative) about people’s feelings about Facebook.  Really, if you like my posts, great.  If you don’t get the whole Facebook thing, either get with the program or leave me alone. For me, Facebook isn’t just about reading people’s silly posts, it’s about staying in touch with people I know, it’s about reading TechCrunch, seeing specials from my favorite stores and getting a quick chuckle daily from some really funny friends.  But I agree; despite all this, reading your iPhone while you should be paying attention to the people around you is not a good thing.

So what does this all mean? Again, the answer comes down to balance. 

I’d like to say a completely “unplugged” vacation was better than a “connected” one, but I can’t.  In the end, for me, there has to be a happy medium between “connected” and “unplugged”.  I remember the days before cell phones and frankly, I don’t want to live in that era again. However, I need to be able to take a picture and post a picture to Facebook without taking the time to read everyone’s posts every time.  Those extra moments are stolen moments from my real life and they belong to me and my family. I also don’t need to read my email constantly. You can wait a bit for a reply from me; you’ll survive.

Two weeks after vacation, I can say I’m working towards this “connectivity” balance and I think I’m better for it.  More to come.  In case I fall off the wagon, remind me of this post.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pictures to upload.


I’m starting a new Twitter hashtag; #companyculture

I heard a good one last week; “Culture eats strategy for lunch every day of the week.”  I found this to be so true and it sparked memories (and nightmares) from my years as an entrepreneur and executive.  I’ve started and worked at companies and organizations big and small; one thing for sure, #companyculture can work both for and against you.  It should be obvious then, that to succeed at a company, you have to understand the culture and more so, master the culture, even if (or should I say “especially if”) your goal is to change it.

I’ve got so many thoughts and opinions about culture and I foresee a myriad of blog posts coming shortly.  For today however, I just wanted you to be on the lookout for #companyculture on Twitter.  This is going to be a fun topic, so join me in spreading the word, posting and commenting.

@johntpeters for #companyculture


My biggest gripe about email; sign it!

No, not this kind of signature.

I don’t know about you, but I get about a hundred emails a day and my biggest complaint about email is that most people don’t include a signature.  When did this become socially acceptable? I’m not suggesting a glorious John Hancock should emblazon your email, but specifically, I’m looking for basic contact information.  If you don’t include contact information in your email, read on.

First, this is not going to be one of those long, boring technical posts about HTML signatures, bandwidth, etc. This post is also aimed at the US market.  Sorry, but my EU friends have lots of other legal requirements related to email signatures I don’t dare address.  With that out of the way, let’s get started.

It is simple common courtesy to include basic contact information in an email signature. Just signing it “John” isn’t enough.  After all, we are operating businesses here, correct?  Assuming this is the case, it is your job to be “easy-to-do-business-with.”   Here are my thoughts.

Most people like to organize contacts into some sort of address book.  Many times we’ll do business with people with whom we have not yet had the chance to exchange business cards (or yes, BUMP iPhones; the app that let’s you bump two iPhones together to simultaneously and automatically swap contact info). Providing your basic contact information allows recipients the opportunity to copy and paste your information into their address book.  This is just in case, oh I don’t know, they want to find your contact information someday! 

Most people also read email on their mobile devices.  Providing your basic contact information allows them to call you with one tap of the screen (or a quick scroll on Blackberry) while they’re running through the airport.

So you have now seen me write “basic information” more than a few times, so I’ll be clear.  For me, basic information includes:

  1. Your name
  2. Your title
  3. Your phone number
  4. Your email address
  5. At least one social media username if it’s appropriate to what you do – LinkedIn would be best since you can share all your contact information there.  By the way, not all corporations (read “old school” corporations) like this one though.
  6. Your main URL 

No, I have not included a street address.  This is only helpful if you do a lot of business outside your time zone or if, for some reason, you still get a lot of snail mail.  Street address though can be found on a website or simply requested when needed.

The rule of thumb is to keep email signatures to four lines by using colons and pipes (see below).

John Q. Hancock
CEO | Made Up Company Investments
212-555-5555 | jhancock@madeupco.com | http://www.madeupcoinvestments.com
@johnhancock | LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/johnhancock

You should also have two versions of your email signature; a longer one for initial emails and a shorter one for replies.

For those who think an email signature is not needed on internal emails, I beg to differ.  If I get an email on my blackberry without a signature and I want to call you, it takes me at least three clicks and a variety of scrolls to find your number via the corporate address lookup.  If you’d just include your phone number it would take one click.

 At the end of the day, we’re all time-starved, so do me a favor; include your basic contact information in your email.  Make it easy for me to do business with you.  If not, I’ll assume you don’t want to do business with me.


Ten things your Smartphone could be doing for you and how some of my favorite apps help me.

I don’t care what kind of smartphone you use. This isn’t going to be yet another post on Apple vs. Droid. My point is that if you have one, you’re all set.

If you don’t have one, and you work for a living, you need to get with the program.  I know, your phone works just fine, and it has for the past five years.  When your wife calls, it rings, you answer. When your kids text you, it beeps and you text back. Trust me, I get it, but I’m amazed at how many people I see that still carry old phones or basic blackberries.

In today’s fast paced business environment, your phone needs to be doing so much more for you, especially if you are in sales or you have customers of one sort or another.  Here are ten things you could be doing with a smartphone and how some of my favorite apps help me.

  1. Books:  You can’t be a good blogger if you’re not a voracious reader.  I know, you have a Kindle, so you should be all set, right?  Well, Kindle makes a great app for iPhone and you could be reading instead of playing with those silly, time-wasting angry birds. (Damned birds. I’ll fess up; I’ve finished all the levels and am now going back to see if I can get three stars in each category, you?)  You could also be reading all your favorite newspapers (I love the USA Today and NY Times apps).   
  2. Email: you need to be able to send and receive emails while you’re on the go.  Having to sit in front of a computer to actually send and receive email is so 1999.  (I know; ’99 was a good year for me as well.  I sold my first company in ’99 and was having a lot of fun.  Ahh, the good old days.)  Further however, you need to be able to easily open and edit attachments and visit web links.  So, if you’re carrying an older, simple blackberry device, you need to upgrade as well.
  3. Internet: You need to be able to browse the internet, check the weather, check your stock portfolio, check your flight status and access Google and Bing.  (Ok, and watch a few YouTube videos of Rico, Air New Zealand’s spoke’s puppet – you’ll laugh for sure.  I interviewed this furry little guy.  Check it out here: http://bit.ly/RicoPeters
  4. Social Networking: You need to be able to update your facebook and twitter statuses on the go.  If you’re not posting fun and interesting comments and pictures from your travels and reviews from your hotel and restaurant adventures, you’re missing out on how people communicate these days.  As far as social for business; the LinkedIn and TripIt apps are about as critical as it gets. LinkedIn has all but replaced my Outlook contact file because it’s always updated and there’s not better tool to research business leads.  For the record, while LinkedIn is free, LinkedIn Premium is well worth the monthly fee.)  Build your social network of contacts at every chance.  Doing this on a smartphone makes it so much easier. For social updates, I love the facebook app. It’s easy to use and it makes it very easy to read and post. As far as twitter, I’m a HootSuite fan and their app doesn’t disappoint.  
  5. Click, Point, Shoot:  Your phone should be your camera and video camera.  Take pictures and videos of everything!  You should even be doing video blog posts about your sales conquests, funny stories from clients, anything.  Guess what sells? Pictures!  You should have a hundred really neat shots on your phone that you can email, post, show to your clients and potential clients at any time.
  6. Apps: There are a million apps from which to choose.  My favorite business app these days? CardMunch – period. Take a photo of a business card. Submit it with one click. Within minutes (yes, minutes) it comes back as a .vcf for easy download into Outlook (or similar) AND as a scanned image. You don’t need to spend time typing cards into Outlook. Have you ever been to a tradeshow and collected a hundred important cards? This is the best app out there for you right now. Best of all? It’s free. No really; FREE.  Plus, it has other features for follow up, sharing of contacts, notes, etc. You simply have to get this app.  By the way, one more must-have app is Google’s app of apps.  In the app store, search for Google Goggles (the very very cool way to search using your phone’s camera or via voice) and you’ll get a link to Google – the app.  The app includes Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Talk, Buzz, Tasks, Reader, News, Voice, Books, Photos, Orkut, Translate, YouTube, Earth and more.  
  7. Music & Movies.  We all need a little down-time for some quiet, calm music…. I’ve got everything from classical to international rock to AC/DC.  No matter what my mood, I have a tune for it.  I also always have at least a couple of movies on my iPhone and iPad.   I’ve spent too many hours stuck in airports not to have some non-work entertainment.
  8. Kiss the kids. If you have an iPhone4 (and some others) you can do live video calls.  Being away from the kids at bed-time isn’t fun.  I’m a big fan of Skype and I often virtually tuck the kids into bed.  I have a few laptops with webcams around the house and this works well.  However, when you’re not near a laptop, you can do live video conferencing right from your phone.  This one aspect alone is worth getting a smartphone.  Skype also has a great app making it very easy to keep in touch with all your Skype contacts.   
  9. Blog! Via apps like the official WordPress app, you can maintain and moderate your blog via your smartphone.  Truthfully, it’s so much easier from a computer, but it’s nice to be able to do so from my phone. You can add photos, upload videos and moderate and create new posts and comments.
  10. GPS:  I don’t know about you, but I’m always trying to find my way someplace.  (Yes, I work for a map company).  There are a plethora of navigation apps available and while you might have GPS in your car, the most useful directions I get from my phone are often walking and public transportation directions.  As an example, I’m a big fan of HopStop’s app as well as Around Me; a neat app that lets you search for nearby points of interest and addresses.

If you are an active, business professional, a smartphone is not an option.  Rather, it is a required business tool.  This isn’t a joke. This isn’t about old-school vs. new school and this has nothing to do with age.  It’s about being open for business when you’re not at the office. It’s about being able to get quick, reliable information, irrespective of your location. It’s about closing sales.


Fail quickly, fail cheaply, fail often!

fail to succeed

Fail to Succeed

I spoke with a friend today with whom I’ve worked before at two jobs; one was my own startup and one was a large, established company.  He’s having some challenges at his current place of employment, specifically with the speed in which things get done (read “not done”).  We had some fun talking about the start-up environment and how it differs from the “real world” so I thought I’d share some of the discussion points.

I’ve worked in everything from start-up companies with less than ten employees to a big, public company with over 35,000.  One thing for sure, there’s nothing like the speed of a start-up to keep you motivated.  Have an idea on Sunday, discuss it Monday morning, do a bit of research on Monday afternoon and start developing and implementing on Tuesday.  This way, you get to try things, lots of things.  If they work, great!  If not, toss it and start over. I’ve always said, “If you’re going to fail, do so quickly, cheaply and often.”

What you don’t want is one of those long, painful, expensive failures. You’ve been there, I’m sure. This is the project that swallows thousands of man-hours and hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.  Worse yet, during that time, you’re not trying anything else. You’re team is so focused on the horrible project that you all took your collective brains on vacation from creativity. Then one day comes the validation that your teams’ brain-child is a disaster and likely, your boss will want to keep it going to save face until a more suitable time is found to kill it.

One thing I’ve learned is that the size or age of a company doesn’t pre-destine it to over-complication. My current employer, though it’s a company over 150 years old can actually get stuff done pretty quickly.  Heck, they bought my company, soup to nuts, within two and a half weeks.  Trust me, they can move fast.

In general though, Corporate America is so consumed with lawyers, fear of failure, quarterly reporting, etc. that good old spaghetti throwing (against the wall) is gone.  Have an idea? Shhhhh, someone may steal it.  Make sure you have NDA’s ready just in case you want to sniff-test the idea with someone outside your asylum, er, I mean company. Go contemplate every single little detail, document it, come up with an ops plan, get budget approval and talk to the dev guys (because they’re going to love to tell you it’s going to take ten months and half a million bucks to build it – though you could get it done in a third of the time for half the cost.)  Don’t forget, you’ll likely need a few versions of a deck to get buy-in from a boatload of people who don’t want to do any more work than they have to.

Start-up divisions within big companies are an interesting idea that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. At the end of the day, if your “startup team” needs to go through the same red tape, same development team, same documentation, same legal processes – well then, it’s not really a start-up team, is it? All you’ve done is brand the team as renegades without actually letting them go off and actually be renegades. Been there. Done that. Got the tee-shirt. (Again, I’m not talking about my current employer).

So, what if all companies acted like start-ups? No, I’m not suggesting we all get air-hockey or a Wii. I’m simply suggesting we would be seeing a lot more innovation, a lot more activity and people would clearly be having more fun (which begat more innovation and more activity…) if people would lighten up and speed it up a bit.    

Before you jump down my throat, I’ve had a lot of great corporate attorneys and analysts with whom I’ve worked. It’s just that so many people in the corporate world never had to deal with real life. They throw around budget numbers in the millions like it’s no big deal (even though they amount to which they’re referring is ten times their salary.) If you’ve ever been responsible for making payroll, you know what I’m talking about.  At the first company I started, I remember thinking “I really need to make payroll on Friday.  If I don’t, some of these people are going to hurt this weekend.”  That’s pressure.

My point is speed is critical in today’s business environment. I think it’s time we all make little efforts to speed up what we do. I’m all for having meetings, but keep them short, keep them tactical and implement, implement, implement.  I’m all for documentation, but keep it in bullet format.  I’m all for emails so you can prove you did something, but hey, pick up the phone and we’ll talk.


My View on Traveling with Children

 

 

Traveling with Children

Traveling with Children

I have a feeling I’ll catch some heat on this.  However, before you throw stones at me, read the whole post.

 

 For years, I’ve been traveling on planes listening to screaming, misbehaving and crying kids. I must admit something very dark; I hated kids on planes. Just the sight of them made me cringe.  I would spy them in the waiting areas and try to judge how misbehaved they’d be and what my odds were they would be sitting within one row of me or worse, next to me.

I recall one flight, I was sitting next to a man (he in the aisle and I in the middle seat – so I was already pissed) and the two little brats, er, I mean children behind us wouldn’t shut up. The man next to me continued to read his Wall Street Journal as if there was nothing wrong.  As the kids bounced and yelled, he kept reading.  Then the kids started playing “go fish” as they threw their cards and proceeded to slam the tray table connected to my seat repeatedly.  All the mother did was kept repeating “Calm down, you are bothering the nice man in front of you.”  (Ya think?) However, after one hundred times of saying this, I’m sure all the kids heard was “way to go, make more noise.” One last slam and I turned around and said to the mother “I normally am a nice man, but the fact you continue to sit there and do nothing while your children bang on my chair is unbelievable to me.”  Her response? “Sorry, but they’re only children.”

The slamming stopped for a few minutes and I commented to the guy sitting and reading his newspaper.  (Note: he hadn’t moved and, to my amazement, was still calmly reading.) “Do you believe this?”  His response? “I’ve got four kids at home. This is nothing. I honestly don’t hear a thing.”  I couldn’t believe his response and thought for a moment, he might have been their father; you know, a dad who travels with the family but acts as if he doesn’t know them.

As for me at the time, I never thought I could deal with kids on a plane. That is, until my wife became pregnant with our first child. I knew, at that moment, I was going to have to grow up and get with the program.  One thing I was sure about was 90% of a child’s behavior on the plane was in direct proportion to the effort put forth by the parents. Yes Mom and Dad, your children are your responsibility on planes or in hotels or anywhere else for that matter. Ignoring them in your own home is fine. However, ignoring them while they slam my tray table isn’t.

Fast forward at least eighteen years. I now have two children under three years old. Both are avid flyers.  My wife and I have, over many flights, put together a list of things we do and bring to make sure we have a good flight, not only for us, but for the people around us.  It’s not a foolproof plan, but it’s pretty good. So, here goes.

  1. Kill Germs. Airports and planes are dirty. Bring disinfectant wipes and wipe down everything around your child on the plane; arm rests, tray tables, wall, window shade – everything. Carry Purell and wipe/disinfect their hands and yours regularly. OK, germs killed.
  2. Bring extra supplies. The diaper bag has to be filled, complete with any supply that might ever be needed for any possible reason.  Extra diapers and supplies (30% more than you think you need – just in case of delays), paper towels, a cloth towel just in case you have to mop up a spill, plastic bags and ziplock baggies and an infinite supply of wipes.  Bring a little air-freshener too. Trust me, you may be used to your little-one’s spit-up smell, but everyone around you won’t appreciate it.
  3. Keep ‘em busy. Children’s attention spans are short at a young age.  I plan the 15-minute activity list.  You should have one activity per 15 minutes. Keep  them busy and their less likely to aggravate you and the other people on the plane. Activities can be repeated, but only once an hour.  For us, these include: crayons on coloring books, regular hard picture book, sticker book, etch-a-sketch mini and one of those books with the special marker that reveals hidden pictures as you color.
  4. Go ahead, watch TV. Here, television IS your friend. For longer flights, get a portable DVD player or something where you can play Barney, the Wiggles or whatever else you child likes.
  5. Popping Ears. Infants cry during take-off and landing because their ears hurt.  So, make sure they’re drinking a bottle during those times to alleviate their ear-popping pain. It has worked like a charm for both of my kids.
  6. Extra clothes. Bring extra clothes for the kids…and for you. Sometimes, children get sick, so plan for it. Sometimes children get sick on you which my wife learned on one flight when my son threw up on her. From then on, we’ve each carried an extra t-shirt with us, just in case.
  7. Thou shall not kick. If your child is a fan of kicking the seat in front of them (why do they do this?), take off their shoes. One kick and it will hurt and they’ll stop doing it.
  8. Hear no evil. No matter how well-behaved you think your kids are, they may cry. So, as soon as the flight attendant comes around offering earphones, offer to buy a set for each of your seat-mates.  On our last Continental Airlines flight, they were being offered at $1, so I automatically bought one for the five people around us.  One man kept saying “you don’t need to do that” but for a buck, it was a good insurance policy, just in case.
  9. Thank you and Sorry! Sometimes your children are going to misbehave. It happens.  Yes, they are just kids (Okay? There, I said it.)  Or, they’ll be sick or something just won’t go as planned on the plane. You’ll make a few people miserable. You won’t want to, but you will. When we fly with our children, we carry a dozen gift cards (from Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks).  Most are for $10, but a few are for $50.  We use these as “thank-you” and “I’m sorry” for people that have either helped us (like the flight where my wife was flying alone with my infant daughter and flight attendant held my daughter when my wife had to use the rest-room.) On a flight that was delayed for three hours ON THE RUNWAY, our daughter spilled her drink on the man next to her.  It was just juice and she didn’t mean it, but she was fidgety. He wasn’t upset, but I felt I should at least pay for his dry-cleaning. He didn’t want to accept anything but was pleasantly surprised at the gift-card.
  10. Dads – this one is for you. Your wife has enough to deal with so help her. Help her even more than you normally would. Take turns taking your children to the bathroom. Do more than your fair share. Traveling with kids can be fun. My daughter and I love to look out the window on take-offs. We love to look at the clouds.

As you can tell, I’m a firm believer in over-parenting on flights. It’s the right (and polite) thing to do. Your children and your seat-mates will thank you.  I acknowledge that things always won’t go as planned, so you should plan for that as well.  It won’t be easy all the time, but you have to make the effort. Traveling with children can be a great experience.

For those parents who think that ignoring their misbehaved children on the plane is okay and the rest of us should just deal with it – well, no. You deal with your kids.  At least, please, make a real effort.  We understand they’re just kids, but you are the adult.

For the rest of you on the plane, including people like the anti-child-on-plane person I used to be, people traveling with kids (especially single moms) need help, so offer assistance. Every little bit helps.  You’ll see how much they appreciate it.  My mother always says, “Be nice to people and they’ll be nice to you.” 


Future airline fee ideas – just for fun.

So, the airlines are raking in hundreds of millions in airline fees from things like extravagant extra services (you know, like luggage and reservation fees).  I was thinking, maybe they need some help coming up with some future fee ideas.  Heck, I have dozens of them, so why not share them?

  1. The POTTY: I know this idea has been mentioned before and Ryan Air was said to have been testing it, but really, a fee to enter the bathroom should be incurred for anyone who didn’t have the brains to go to the potty before boarding the plane.  I mean really.  Also, my idea is unique in that I would propose it be a timed fee, say $1 a minute, plus a $1 fine if you don’t wipe down the sink after use out of courtesy for the next passenger.  That fine would be on the honor system though; you could just leave it in that useless razor blade receptacle slot on the wall.
  2. Safety Announcements: Given we all still apparently need instructions on how to use a seat-belt (you know, because we don’t travel in cars or anything), I would be happy to pay for individual (yes, one-on-one, in person) training sessions on how to get off the plane in a hurry. By the way, does ANYONE not know how to use a seat-belt? If they’re so complicated, I would bet there’s a Velcro (err, I mean hook and loop fabric, lest I upset the trademark police) someplace that will hold someone in place in the event of turbulence. The securing mechanism is a lot less complicated to explain than those modern-day engineering marvels used to keep us in place, previously referred to as “seat-belts.”
  3. Smiles.  I like smiling flight attendants, but they are very busy taking care of all those (ugh) customers.  Like for a good street performer, you should have to pay for the pleasure of seeing a smile. That should be worth $.25 cents, right?  The unions would clearly want to put a cap on smiles per hour but that’s okay, we wouldn’t want the smiles to come off as phony.
  4. Guaranteed Pat-Down:  Last I went through security and set off the metal alarm, the man complimented my bracelet and my shoes and wished me a very pleasant flight.  Hey, this was a nice touch, so I say the airlines should get together with the TSA and charge for “positive experience pat-downs.”  $5 is not a lot for this service.  No matter how you look, they would lie to you and say you look great and say you’ve lost a few pounds. Unfortunately, you can’t request a TSA agent of the opposite sex. No joke here; you can’t. Just trust me.
  5. Guarantee View Fee.  If you want the window, you should have to pay $25, irrespective of weather (note to airlines, please research charging a fee in the event of a sunny day accompanied by pretty clouds that look like circus animals.)
  6. Guarantee Aisle Seat. If you want the aisle, you should also have to pay $25.  This fee however, would have to be bundled with elbow and knee pads to save you from the freight train of a beverage cart being pushed by the flight attendant who is pissed he/she didn’t get to the gym that day and is trying to get in a few minutes of cardio.  But those pads cost money, so make it $35.  If you bring your protective pads on the next flight, you could save the $10.
  7. Guarantee “No Middle” Seat.  What if you don’t care if you get the aisle or window, but want to make sure you don’t get the middle?  There’s a fee for that; $25, plus a $5 “indecisiveness” surcharge. Total fee $30.
  8. No-Baby Zone “NBZ” Fee – want to be outside the baby-zone (say by fifteen aisles)?  That’s another $25. If you want a window or aisle NBZ seat, that could be packaged for $49. If you want a GNMNBZS (Guaranteed No Middle, Non-Baby Zone Seat), that’s $100 because the accounting / booking code for the fee is very long and cumbersome to the airline staff.
  9. Oxygen:  Talk about supply and demand.  If those babies pop from the ceiling, they should be accompanied with a little sign that reads, pull this mask and your credit card will be charged $50.  You could argue they could charge $500, but hey, let’s not be greedy.

10.  Fee Fee.  I know, you’ve heard this one before but honestly, to charge fees, the airlines have to incur costs and it would be unfair to ask them to do so without remuneration.  Since most of these fees would be paid by credit card and the average credit card merchant fee is 2.5%, they should just tack this Fee Fee on top of any fee.

Have any more fee ideas?  Let me know.


From John T. Peters: “The Copycats”

I’ve spent the last ( nearly) three years of my life working to grow Tripology. Much of that time was spent traveling around the US and the world (London, Prague, Berlin, Athens, etc.) telling people about our business and model. I swear, between VCs, conferences, trade shows, webinars and other random events, I think I must have made a thousand presentations of one sort or another.

All of a sudden, in the past three months, I’ve been contacted by people from the US as well as overseas (specifically London, Moscow and Berlin – hmm, you think they were at my presentations?), looking to create the next Tripology. They say they’re “far along” but guess what? Yep, they have questions; lots of them. They all go on to make it sound like it will be so simple and I’m sorry, but I just have to laugh. They all say they have the code “under control” or “the team in India/Russia/ (insert any country name here) is on it” and it is clearly almost done.

All they want is some research, background, PowerPoint presentations and/or data (read LAZY). Now, I’m all for helping friends with anything they may need, really. As for copying us, I’m flattered. However, why on earth do they think I’ll just hand everything over to them? We’ve spent literally thousands of man hours developing hundreds of thousands of lines of code for some of the coolest algorithms I’ve ever seen. We’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars on research. We’ve mingled and schmoozed till we could hardly stand and we’ve worked like dogs to get where we are. So, please forgive me if I’m not about to wrap all this into a nice little package with a big red bow on it and ship it off to some stranger that’s managed to find me on LinkedIn or one of my blogs. Want some general info? Maybe some basic stats? Heck, want to do a partnership? I’m in. Outside of that, sorry, I can’t help you.

By the way, I don’t blame you for trying. I would have done the same thing, but with a lot more tact.


Social Media is not just for soft marketing efforts anymore

Ritesh Gupta just wrote a really cool article entitled “Social media is no longer just for soft marketing initiatives.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“For long, it has been acknowledged that for brands, social media is primarily about testing and learning.

It is definitely better for a brand to be in these spaces listening, engaging and responding than to underestimate the power of this platform as a new outlet for customers. It is vital to understand clearly why/who/how/what your brand and your people will do in social spaces and to balance sales versus service messaging. It is not possible for brands to opt out of the medium as customers are more powerful than ever before.

Being open and honest as a brand and listening and engaging with customers in a fair and transparent way should avoid failure. At the same time, it is critical to assess for how long one should wait to see tangible results.”

Read the entire article at:
http://www.m-travel.com/news/2010/01/social-media-is-no-longer-just-for-soft-marketing-initiatives.html

I along with Flo Lugli, EVP of Marketing of Wyndham Worldwide, Josh Steinitz, CEO of NileGuide are scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Social Media Strategies for Travel USA 2010 Conference. The two-day conference will take place in San Francisco (March 24-25).

For more information, click here:
Social Media Strategies for Travel USA 2010 Conference