John T. Peters

Hi. Nice to smell you… 15 tips for being a considerate traveler.

Since I commute to another state for work, by plane, I regularly find myself in close quarters with other people.  Proximity is an amazing thing, especially as you travel.  Since I have traveled most of my life, I have always known that to be a good traveler, you must also be a considerate traveler.  After all, if *everyone* would do this, the travel experience would be so much more pleasant.  Below, I have assembled my list of the top 15 things you can do to be more considerate while you travel.  You’ll see a theme and this comes from something my Mom always tells me; “Be nice to people and they’ll be nice to you.”

  1. Perfume / cologne – Here’s the rule of thumb; Women, I should have to get close enough to kiss your neck to be able to smell your potion.  If I can smell you just by sitting next to or across from you, you have too much on, in my opinion.  If I can smell you in the elevator, after you have gotten out of the elevator, that’s just rude. Men, aftershave serves a purpose; it heals the skin after we tear it to shreds with a razor.  A little aftershave is okay.  No neck kissing here; I simply don’t want to smell you at all.  As for cologne, I know, your mom keeps buying you some for Christmas, but this does not mean you have to wear gallons of it.  When in doubt, just use a little.
  2. Electronics on planes – Turn off your electronic devices when the flight attendants ask. Seriously, this hide and seek game is silly.  How old are you?  Shut it off.  These rules apply to everyone, not everyone but you.  When the FAA finally says its okay to leave them on, then we’ll all do it.
  3. Flight attendants – Stop yelling at or speaking rudely to the flight attendants, especially for things out of their control. News flash; they don’t control the weather. They don’t make the rules either.  They are there for your safety. However, If you feel they are being rude, you could and should say something, but not if they’re reacting to *your* rudeness.  Also, they’re not your personal servants.  Call them, if you must, by pressing the call button, not outburst of “Hello. Excuse me!”
  4. Be nice –  Say “please” and “thank you.”  I’m amazed as I travel how many people don’t do this. When a flight attendant hands you your beverage, say “thank you.” When the doorman holds open your door, say “thank you.”  If you need some ketchup, ask the waiter nicely and say “please.”  Is this so hard?
  5. Can you hear me now?  – When listening to music on the plane, even if you are wearing ear buds in, make sure the person next to you can’t hear your music (read, because you are playing your music too loudly.)  If you’re into loud music (I am) use noise cancelling headphones on a plane.  As I type, The Who’s “Eminence Front” is blaring, but my seat mates can’t hear it.
  6. Arm rest wrestling – Don’t be a space hog; armrests are for sharing. Take turns or something, but the wrestling for the armrest is rude. The same goes for reclining your seat; give a quick look behind you and see if someone (yes, me) is working on a laptop before you nearly crush it with a recline forceful enough to split atoms.
  7. Excuse me, can you let me out? – If you, like me, have the bladder of a tree frog (read small), but love the window seat, well, pick one; bladder or view.   View or bladder.  I don’t care either way, but I don’t want to have to get up three times in a flight because you like to look at clouds in between visits to the potty.
  8. Clean up – And speaking of the potty; clean up after yourself in restrooms, especially on a plane.  Rinse and wipe down the sink and pick up any of your random (insert anything here) that you have left behind.
  9. Kids on a plane – Parents, I’ve written a dozen posts on how to be good travelers when you are with your kids.  I have kids and they’re always on planes with me. Here’s the rule of thumb; OVER-PARENT on planes. For infants, make sure you feed them a bottle during takeoff, so their ears don’t hurt (sucking on the bottle will help) and they start screaming. For toddlers, bring entertainment; think 15 minute attention spans; one coloring book is not going to cut it. Taking your children’s shoes off will keep them from kicking the seats in front of them.  I have lots of tips. Here’s a link to my most popular post on the subject “Tips for traveling with kids.”
  10. Drunks on a plane –  Speaking of “sucking on a bottle” – don’t get hammered on a plane. That’s just rude.  Sure a beverage or two will take the edge off, but getting blotto? Yea, ah…no.
  11. Here’s a tip – To tip or not to tip? I’m an over-tipper, but the rule of thumb is don’t be a cheap skate. You should leave hotel maids a few bucks a day if they kept your room nice and clean. Taxi drivers (who drive well enough for you not to get nauseous, and keep a clean, smell-free taxi) should get 15-20%. Come on, you know the drill; just because you’re traveling does not mean you shouldn’t tip. If someone works hard to give you good service, reward them. On the other side of that coin is “if they don’t, then don’t.”  I’m all for sending a message.
  12. When in Rome – Do you travel internationally? If so, get with the (local) program. Respect the local culture and customs. Learn a few words of the language (“please” and “thank you” are always good ones) for heaven’s sake.  I recall a trip to the Greek Island of Crete where an American counterpart was upset the restaurant didn’t have Tabasco.  News flash, Greeks don’t use it.  If it’s so critical to your skewered meat, bring some with you or better, go to Morocco… just sayin’.
  13. Share – Share with your seatmates.  Are you just about to enjoy a stick of gum? A triangle of Toblerone? An Oreo? If we’re going to be sitting next to one another for a while, what better way to start our relationship off on the right foot?
  14. Feet – And speaking of feet… Dear Lord, keep your shoes on!  If we’re about to embark on a long international flight, I understand you’ll want to take your shoes off.  I take mine off.  However, give your tootsies a pre-flight powder or something.  I’m not paying thousands of dollars to smell your feet.  Same goes for open sandals. If you’re a woman with pretty, manicured odorless feet, okay.  But if you have weathered, stinky, Fred Flintstone feet, keep them covered.
  15. Don’t do it – Finally, keep your fingers out of your nose or I’m going to call you out. Period.

Have any others I should add to this list?

Happy New Year!

Getting more followers-101: A few basic tips for travel pros and you

getting more social media followers

getting more social media followers

One of the questions I keep getting from travel professionals is “How do I get more social media followers?” and the answer is both simple and complicated.  At the end of the day, there are a few key things to remember; 1) people are looking for interesting people with interesting content with whom they would be willing to engage.  By “engage” I mean read, comment, post, tweet and re-tweet. 2) quality of friends / followers is important, but despite what you’ll hear, quantity is important as well.  After all, if you have 100% of your followers engaged, but you only have five followers, then you’re basically wasting your time. Your goal is to get as many actively involved, engaged friends, likes, followers and subscribers as possible.  This is an ongoing effort which should never end.

So, how do you create interesting content? Easier said than done, right?  Sure, we can all crank out a few blog posts we think are interesting, but keeping it flowing is a challenge.  For one thing, we’re all busy and writing interesting, meaningful and relevant blog posts takes time and effort.  I’m not sure about you, but I’m fairly overextended to begin with.  So, I have recently determined my “social” activity needs scheduling like everything else.  I now make “social time” a priority on my schedule, meaning I block time in the evenings or weekends to get to social media activities.  I even go so far as to block at least thirty minutes a day during the week, for my work accounts, to dedicate (almost exclusively) to social. This is in addition to the efforts put forth to “be social” in all my online reading, etc. and by that I mean I always share interesting reads, always comment when I have something to say and always re-post or re-tweet something I find interesting.  In all, I now dedicate about four a week to social media, including writing posts and scheduling them.  I write about topics about of which I’m passionate and knowledgeable.  Further, if you know me, you’ll know I am not short on at least these three things; opinions, humor and sarcasm. These help me keep my posts and tweets fun, dare I say provoking in some fashion. Yea, I’m from Jersey.  You got a problem with that?

The next thing to getting more followers is making sure you’re both socially engaged and a voracious reader. Yes, this requires more time. Find the best blogs in your field and read what others are saying.  This will not only keep you up to date, but educate you, thus validating your existing opinions or helping you form others.  Then, share, share, share.   Keep in mind one thing; not everyone, even your closest friends, will want to read everything you post.  Also, different platforms call for different sharing activity. Here are my personal sharing activities by platform.

Twitter: I try to post five times a day or more. Twitter is very “right now” and with the numbers of people posting, frequency helps you get noticed.  For me, Twitter is about A) promoting a blog post I’ve written, B) getting people to read and share articles of interest or, finally, C) point people to the promotions I’m pushing and to my public speaking events. Remember though, you only have 140 characters (120 if you’re writing something you hope to be re-tweeted) so you need to use them sparingly and in a fashion that begs to be clicked.  As an example, at a conference at which I’m speaking, one of the topics is about travel agent specialization.  In that speech, I tell agents why and how they should specialize.  The tweet for that event is “#travel agents, Specialize or Die” along with the link and ending with “via @johntpeters”.  Short and attention grabbing is the way to go on Twitter.  I normally have two types of tweets for this type of event.  In one, I link directly to the conference registration page.  In another, I link to my blog post which also tells people why they should attend.  Then, in that post, I link people to the conference registration page.  I use Hootsuite to schedule most of my posts and I work a few days ahead of time.  I normally spend all my “social” time on Sundays to schedule my tweets for Monday to Wednesday. As far as when these tweets *appear*, I post 80% of my tweets to appear during office hours.  I find these get re-tweeted far more frequently than my after-hours tweets. While we’re on the subject of re-tweeting, I do that as often as possible. For one, I find my followers like how I share posts I find interesting.  They take something I re-tweeted and then share it with their followers.  That is the idea after all.  Another reason to re-tweet is to “share the love” with others.  You RT them and they’re more likely to RT you.

Facebook is different. On Facebook, I post three or four times a day.  I normally do half of my posts for work and half for personal topics.  In all cases, I try to show the human side of me.  I’m a card-carrying member of “TMI” (too much information) and am often more of an over-sharer than not. So, to be friends with me on Facebook means you’ll hear about me, my family, my opinions and a variety of sarcastic comments.  Sure, I also post about professional items, work projects and any speaking engagements, but in most cases, I do try and make people laugh. After all, we don’t laugh enough anymore.  On Facebook, I also post pictures and videos.  These might be direct from my iPhone or via Instagram (complete with image filters).  On Facebook, I often post (what I hope to be) thought provoking comments.  These might include questions about favorite vacations, funniest kids questions or quotes or pretty much anything that comes to mind I find interesting.

I’m going to cover Google+ in another post.  I’m on the platform, I use it and have recently really started to see the promised SEO coverage, so I’m inclined to keep at it.  I’m no expert though and have no real case study to show I’m successful there. I’m just being honest.

In all cases, I follow/friend/like people and companies I enjoy, read, respect, use.  I’m not following anyone because it will get me more followers.  I LIKE Huffington Post because I like their coverage. I didn’t LIKE Williams Sonoma’s Facebook page this morning for any other reason than Roasted Chicken & Brie Frittata I cooked using their recipe was a big hit at breakfast.

Finally, I’m not perfect.  I am sometimes too busy to post, too tired to be a voracious reader or too knee-deep in work and kids to do all the things I’ve listed above.  Life, after all, just happens.

If you’ve found this post useful or at the least intriguing, follow me on twitter (@johntpeters) or on Facebook.  If not, read it again. You obviously weren’t paying attention the first time around.  See? Sarcasm.

The greatest distraction at work…ELIMINATED in an instant.

Ivan Pavlov

 

Pavlov's Dog

Remember the story of Pavlov and his dog? His dog was conditioned to start drooling when he heard a bell because he knew food was coming.  Imagine the distraction…DING! Thoughts disrupted. Concentration lost. Eyes darting.  This describes not only Pavlov’s dog, but it describes me as well. Let me explain.

No, I don’t think of food when I hear a bell (at least not always), but I can tell you, when that email notification (DING!) sounds and the message notification appears, I check to see what email message has arrived. By this, I mean I glance at the lower right portion of my screen to see who has emailed me.  Unfortunately, this happens 150 to 200 times a day.  DING! Oooh look…shiny object!

What on *earth* is so important that I lose my train of thought?  Many of us have been conditioned to read email (at least the title and sender) when we see/hear that email has arrived. Why? Likely it’s because so many people expect an immediate answer, as if I have nothing else to do but stop what I’m doing and respond to you (er, except you boss).  Worse, they’ll call asking if I got their email.  For the record, I’m okay with the phone call if you have an urgent question.  By all means, for complicated questions and answers, I’d much rather spend a few minutes on the phone versus responding via email.  However, in a previous professional life, everyone kept and filed every single email as the ultimate CYA (“cover your a**) insurance.  That was horrific.  Even after a phone call, they’d send you an email reiterating what you just covered on the phone.

A few years back I trained myself to simply glance at the sender without going to my Outlook main page.  I thought this was a good start at freeing myself from Outlook Prison. I was doing okay until my email messages started coming in ten at a time.

These days, if I get an email from my boss or an important client, I respond right away. Otherwise, I keep working.  Honestly however, even the glances at the email alerts distract me.  So today, I tried something new; I turned off the email notification entirely. No DING!. No message indicator. Nothing.  I also did something else; I put two, one-hour blocks of time on my calendar, every day, to answer email, first at 10:30AM, followed by another block at 2:30PM.  Then, I checked one last time at the end of the day and answered some emails, though not all.  Some emails will simply have to wait until tomorrow.

I have to admit, I think I was more efficient today.  I have more work to do, like sending a dozen or so auto emailed reports I receive daily to a reports folder for reading later.

By the way, since I share my calendar with a few people, my time blocks list “I’m working – emergency interruptions only” as the activity.  That should keep people away for a while.  I also shut my office door. When this stops being an effective deterrent to interruptions, I’ll change it up.  I’ve been known to put meetings on my calendar with luminaries, alive and dead.  You have to admit, when you look at someone’s calendar and it says “Telcon with Elvis” or “Lunch with Margaret Thatcher” people hesitate to interrupt.

My blocked time was very effective until I got a few text messages (rats!).  None of them were urgent by the way. Texting, as you know, is the new email. This is just what we need; more distractions.

I will keep you updated as things progress.  Until then, do you have any email management techniques or other helpful hints to avoid distractions during the day?

The Coolest Last Minute Gifts You Can Get For Your Traveling Spouse

The Coolest Last Minute Gifts You Can Get For Your Traveling Spouse

Are you on the road all the time? Is your spouse?  Are either of you Preferred / Platinum / Priority on one airline or more? Heaven knows I am.  I thought about all the top ten lists for gifts, but I don’t believe I have seen a good one for people that travel.  When I have found a list, the person writing it doesn’t tell you *why* the items made the list.  So, here goes.  You still have time to run to the store.  Where possible, I have listed where you can purchase these items.

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  1. Luggage. Briggs & Riley Baseline 21″ Carry-On Expandable Upright U421X  – Say what you want, but the right piece of luggage can make for a great trip.  So you know; I beat the hell out of my luggage, so I can’t mess around.  Honestly, I recently tried a Swiss brand, bought 4 new pieces and within a few trips, two of them broke and they all looked like they had flown a million miles. So, I’ve now opted for my Briggs & Riley 21 Carry-On Expandable Upright.  You can’t kill this thing. It’s sturdy, good looking, and functional. The wheels are smooth. The handle casing is on the outside of the bag, leaving more room on the inside. Plus, it’s the perfect size for a couple of days. Go to http://www.briggs-riley.com/ and find a store near you.  About $320. Perfect for the serious road warrior.  Note there are lots of models from which to choose. Briggs & Riley rocks.
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  2. Noise Cancelling Headphones. Seriously, nothing makes for a better flight than the drowning out of all that noise.  I don’t care if it’s a crying baby, excessive pilot announcements or, heaven forbid, a gum-snapping seat-mate. I have a pair made by Sony (MDR-NC200D).  Available on Amazon for about $199 though you can find some models for $99.  Perfect for all, especially avid music fans because your tunes will sound great while you’re blocking out noise simultaneously.
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  3. Belkin BZ103050QTVL Mini Surge 3-outlet Wall Mount with USB Charger.  How many devices do you own that will likely need to be charged at the airport? For me, it’s at least two or three. When you finally get to the airport, the plugs are all taken by everyone else.  With this nifty device, I walk up to someone, and ask if I can unplug their device for a second while I plug in the “tap” and presto, I plug them back in and still have two outlets for me. Seriously, it is the best gift ever for a traveler. Amazon for about $20 (starting price). Perfect for the digital road warrior.
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  4. Folding Leather Picture Frame.  One thing for sure, when you travel you’ll miss your family.  The best gift my wife ever got me was a leather picture frame with a picture of her and the kids in it.  I get to a hotel and put it on the nightstand. It makes you feel like they’re there with you. Available online – just search and you’ll find it. The sell for about $40. Perfect for Moms and Dads.
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  5. Leather Folding Snap Dresser Tray / Caddie.  You tend to leave stuff around a hotel room; keys, room card-keys, change, money, passport, etc.  The first thing I do when I get to my room is snap the edges of my dresser caddie (it lays flat in my briefcase) and unload all the stuff in my pockets.  It is a great way to stay organized. Available on Amazon for $45. Perfect for the serious, Type “A” traveler.
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  6. Silk Sleep Sack (aka dreamsack). One word; bedbugs.  They’re gross. Yes, I’ve been bitten and mind you, it was at a rather nice hotel.  Expensive room rates do not guarantee you won’t have bedbugs.  When I’m ready for bed in a hotel, I pull off the comforter entirely (don’t even make me go there!) and unroll my sleep sack, put it on top of the sheets and get in.  It won’t guarantee you won’t be bitten but sleeping in *your* silk cocoon seems so much more clean than jumping into hotel sheets.  In very nice hotel, I normally still use it.  Simply wash it when you get home, in between trips and throw it back into your suitcase. Available on Amazon for $60 – $100. Perfect for all.
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  7. Incase EC20035 Combo Charger for iPod, iPhone and iPad.  I don’t know about you, but I carry around my share of chargers. iPhone, iPad, mi-fi, etc.  The problem is you need at least one iPhone charger for the car.  So, I carry this combo unit that works either in the car or in a standard wall outlet and it allows me to carry one less cord. Available on shopping.com for about $30. Perfect for the iPhone using rental car customer.
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  8. Mobile hotspot aka Mi-Fi.  Mine is 4G from Verizon.  This lets me get wifi for up to 5 devices anyplace I can get a cell signal. No need to try and find a public hotspot in a pinch. Plus, it is perfect for conferences when you’re traveling with a few people and you all need wifi acess.  Turn it on and you can hook up four friends as well.  They run anywhere from “free” to $100.  Plus you’ll also need a service plan which could cost $30 or more per month, depending on the plan may you already have. Perfect for the digital road warrior.
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  9.  Royce Leather Toiletry Bag – Yea, okay, just like the one my dad has.  It’s a classic and holds a bunch of stuff (that’s another post). Leather is perfect because it lasts, you can clean it and it is sturdy enough. Newegg.com for about $60. Perfect for your hubby.
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  10. Leather tie and accessories case.  Okay, we’re not wearing ties that often any more.  However, when you do need a couple for a trip, transporting them is a bit of a pain, especially since the ones left in the closet these days are likely the best ones you own.  So, when I travel, I pack my ties (and cuff links) in my tie case.  Ties are stored folded in half and then half again but they arrive wrinkle free.  Gifts.com for about $70. Perfect for the classy man.

So your guy or gal might not like *all* of these, but you really can’t go wrong with *any* of them.

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.