Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Following up on yesterday's post, I came across this interesting article. The author went through the same sort of experience I went through but was more patient and giving to the airline industry...or atleast, she tried to explain the problems more gently and made a different point.
I am sitting in seat 10B on flight 744 from Dallas to New York, getting a front-row view of where air travel is headed in this country. Booked two weeks in advance, my coach-class ticket cost $1,258 round-trip—and that was without checking a bag, changing my ticket, or any other innocuous act that could have upped my tab by hundreds of dollars... [My] only gustatory options on this three-hour dinnertime flight are a standard-issue flagon of plonk and an unwholesome assortment of snack foods. Together, they set me back more than $10.
Raising prices for diminished service isn't a winning strategy for keeping customers. Indeed, in a recent Condé Nast Traveler survey, fully 82 percent of readers said they'd travel less if prices rose by 20 percent or more. And while 47 percent said they would be willing to pay extra for an in-flight meal, most balked at the other fees, with only 20 percent saying they would shell out to check a bag. Most agreed the air travel experience has headed south: 70 percent of those surveyed said they had experienced a flight delay of more than an hour in the past year, and nearly 30 percent said a carrier had lost their bag or canceled their flight.
How bad will it get? Here, we look at the many ways in which you will feel the airlines' changes—and what you can do to minimize the pain.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
photo courtesy: Innaminnafly
I'm flying to Europe for six weeks in August (and I won't be blogging much during that time as I know you are all dying for a break! :-) ). And, I'm VERY VERY annoyed at the airline industry right now.
Travel is a luxury item, and with the economy struggling as it is, only crazy people (like me) who are footing their own bills or business people who have someone else footing their bills are doing the traveling. The once high-flying (pun-intended) airline industry is struggling to pay their own bills, and is consequently trying to punish anyone who is trying to help them out.
Normally, with packed flights through most days of the year, airlines keep peak season rates relatively low. But with such low demand, airlines are trying to make their profits entirely in the peak season...so poor, unfortunate idiots like myself are stuck with abnormally high rates. (I try my best to avoid peak traveling seasons in general, because I dislike crowds intensely. But this time, I had no choice.)
This is what I call stupid short-term thinking. While they make money in the short-term (really??), in the long-run, they are "shooting themselves in the foot." And here's why:
- They are losing on the majority of people sitting on the fence about traveling. I know plenty of people who suddenly have a lot of time on their hands and have been contemplating traveling, but have given it up because of the exhorbitant rates. Airlines are betting on the few who HAVE to fly, not on the potential of people who might fly if their deals were better.
- They are losing out on customer loyalty. What few airlines realize is that a lot of frequent travelers are loyal, and are powerful word-of-mouth marketers. I am loyal to Virgin Airlines for example (amazing customer service and in-flight service!!), and Southwest Airlines, and I used to be to JetBlue before their customer service started sucking. When you bully people into doing things they don't want to do or don't think is fair, they will hold it against you. In this case forcing us to pay unfair fees and putting up with awful customer service while it will get us this time, will lose us in the long run (this is why I will NEVER fly Northwest/KLM again!)
- Allowing poor business practices to continue, even flourish: The larger US Airlines have the absolute worst service in the world, and they have no excuse. For years, the US government notoriously protected their airline industry, allowing awful business practices to endure. When the markets finally opened and protectionism was terminated, these "institutional airlines" (US Airways, Delta, American Airlines, United, etc) struggled. Their burgeoning bureaucracy made them inefficient against innovative, nimble, emerging airlines like Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Frontier, and others. The older airlines have only survived by capitalizing on their monopoly routes, their loyal customers, and building alliances with better airlines around the world.
Still struggling, the institutional airlines turned to stupid short-term thinking, taking their ire out on the customers. Fly one of them and you'll find yourself paying for everything. None of the institutional airlines have on-demand entertainment, a common availability amongst every first-world airline. If you want it, you pay for it. Many of these airlines are locked into lengthy and heavy contracts with labor unions; so their staff are often old, cranky, angry people who have seen a once glorious job go sour. Naturally their customer service is terrible. Further, they've cut down on seat spacing, have aging fleets, ancient in-flight entertainment, and make you pay for everything, including your water and your luggage (in addition to your already sizable airline ticket).
Its ridiculous to me that these airlines are thriving in this economy. And why?? Because the now cost-conscious consumer is forced to go with the cheapest deal, not the best airline. While hunting around today, for example, Delta Airlines was charging $1121 for a round-trip ticket to Paris; Lufthansa, a relatively superior airline, was charging $1600 (which is currently average for all non-American carriers). Normally, I would pay the extra $100 or $15o over Delta just to get better service. But this time, I can't even afford the $1121. But its my only choice, so I take it. So here we have it...the market is working against us and them.
Yes, airlines have investors and shareholders. But shareholders are reasonable people. Everyone knows that the economy is doing terribly. It would be ridiculous to expect that Delta would churn out record profits at this time...
My point is this...short-term thinking, without considering the bigger picture is very stupid and dangerous. While the ailing US institutional airlines continue to get through another year, its only a matter of time before they will have to bow out. After all, GM just did...only a matter of time with the rest...
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, during the 26/11/08 attacks. photo courtesy: computerweekly.com
What is the best way to thwart terrorism?? Well, how about we start with where and how a regular person becomes a terrorist...
I was reading this article about Ajmal Kasab the 21-y/o sole surviving terrorist from the Mumbai Attacks on 26/11. He was recently arraigned in court, and strong international interest followed what he had to say. Young and alone, Kasab confessed to his deeds, but what struck me was the story that he told...
He told [the judge]... that he was broke and tired of his job working for a decorator in Jhelum, a small town in Pakistan, and making a pittance. He and a friend had hatched a plan. They would earn cash by robbing people. And to improve their banditry skills they would seek out military training from the easiest source available to a young Pakistani man: Islamic militants.
Mr. Kasab and his friend went to Rawalpindi, he said, and asked in the market where they might find mujahedeen. They were directed to the office of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Indian and American investigators say that Lashkar-e-Taiba planned the attacks in Pakistan. Although Pakistan initially denied that any of its citizens had been involved, it has now charged five men believed to be Pakistan-based Lashkar operatives with involvement. The organization’s founder, Hafez Saeed, has not been charged.
In the months before the attack, Mr. Kasab said in court, he and the other attackers were taken to a safe house in Karachi, the coastal city that is the commercial capital of Pakistan and is a world away from the Punjabi village where his family lived.
There the young men were cut off from the world. He said they and their trainers were not told where they would go next nor were they given any details about their mission, though it was clear that it would involve lethal weapons and deadly force.
“They told us we were to wait for some time,” Mr. Kasab said in court. “There was some problem.” They were warned sternly that “nobody will disobey” their orders.In a month and a half, they were allowed out of the house only once for a training exercise when they were taught how to navigate the inflatable boats that they would use to leave Pakistani waters.[...]
In his TEDGlobal talk this morning, Prime Minister Gordon Brown (who gave a splendid talk largely on foreign policy and Third World Development) said that we needed to start being more effective than the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. The reason these terrorist organizations are SO effective is because they take poor frustrated young men and treat them like human beings. Suddenly they have food, attention, and a roof over their heads, and they have "purpose"; but this comes at a cost...they must sell their souls. The way to turn around terrorism is to more effectively get to these people before the terrorists do.
On this note, I highly recommend reading Three Cups of Tea, and watching this great documentary by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who did a phenomenal (and brave) job of covering the Taliban's recruiting mechanisms.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Recently, I came across a rare interview that brought the two together to recount the "rivalry" and the contributions that each brought to the other and their common field. Here they are in parts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
(and can I say that the interviewers are just plain annoying!! Barring them, its a great interview!!)
Friday, July 17, 2009
Jobs, as you may already know, is notoriously hard to get on film. He hasn't done an interview in years! Also, this interview was done before Toy Story became the pioneering success that it is still perceived to be today. The interview is consequently fresh, fascinating, and enlightening. Here, Pixar is trying to make a case for the audience to believe and buy into their product (a very different place from today). Much to learn here about how the company's innovative atmosphere and focus was developed.
Bottomline: Focus on the story...
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, receives a Technical Academy Award. Below he speaks about leadership and managing Pixar's work culture (photo source: zimbio.com)
Following up on yesterday's post, here's more from Pixar president, Ed Catmull. In the video shown yesterday, Ed emphasized the importance of having a good team. In this interview, he elaborates further about what he means.
In case you can't watch the video, here is the essence of what he says and what Pixar strives to inculcate:
- Cultivate an air of open and honest communication: The basic work culture at Pixar is that movie production is a team effort. Everyone is needed and important, and everyone has the right to speak and be heard. Ed says that the Pixar team works constantly on keeping communication lines open. There is also a significant emphasis put on trusting each other. This comes from attracting high quality people, and maintaining a high level of open communication.
- Keep it egalitarian: Artists and engineers work together; one is in no way above the other. And it is management's job to emphasize this.
- Keep your eye on the ball: At Pixar, the bottomline is making a good movie. Everything else is a means to that end.
- Maintain your quality: Get the best people you know on board, as they will not only deliver a good product, but also bring in better talent.
- Trust the artists: Ed strongly believes that the creative people need to drive the innovation, not the technical people or management. Given this high level of trust, the creative workforce works hard to include everyone else in their decisionmaking, and deliver a high quality product
If you are further interested in Catmull's take on running successful companies, I would also recommend watching this lecture that he gave at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2007.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
photo source: solarnavigator.net
Pixar is pure magic and genius. It is the Walt Disney Company for the 21st century.
I've been reading the Pixar Touch (which I highly recommend) that gives the whole story of a group of visionaries whose visions were nearly killed several times. This lecture/panel discussion with the founders and main leaders in Pixar gives a great behind-the-scenes look at what makes the Studios tick, and what their recipe for success is (hint: people, people, people).
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
(photo source: http://www.understandingmormonism.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/mormon_missionaries.jpg)
- Long Term Commitment: Missionaries come for the long haul. Once they come, they often stay for a long period of time creating trust and a relationship.
- Community Investment: They invest time in the community learning their customs and language. Further, they make the effort of living like them, generally eating what they eat and drinking what they drink. Again, the community honors the commitment and trusts them. Further, this level of investment guarantees that they understand the community well. Essentially they customize their initiatives to work with the psychology of the community.
- Focus and Consistency: Missionaries are darned focused on their target. Until the day they die, they keep a consistent message of converting everyone to their religious beliefs. Regardless of whether you believe in this or not, you've got to respect the level of focus and consistency that they bring to the table. There are never mixed messages. If you keep drilling the same thing over and over again, at some point, people will listen.
- Hard Work and Persistence: Missionaries are hardworking. You'll often find them on their hands and knees cleaning up with the rest of the locals. They don't act that much more different than the people they are working with.
- Good Role Models: They are good role models. Always clean, well-dressed, and polite, the missionaries present good model citizens. Its easy to want to follow them.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
(photo source: Growing Power)
“I started hanging out with Belgian farmers,” Allen said. “I saw how they did natural farming,” much as his father had. Something clicked in his mind. He asked his team’s management, which provided housing for players, if he could have a place with a garden. Soon he had 25 chickens and was growing the familiar foods of his youth — peas, beans, peanuts — outside Antwerp. “I just had to do it,” he said. “It made me happy to touch the soil.” On holidays, he cooked feasts for his teammates. He gave away a lot of eggs.
After retiring from basketball in 1977, when he was 28, Allen settled with his wife and three children in Oak Creek, just south of Milwaukee, where Cyndy’s family owned some farmland. “No one was using that land, but I had the bug to grow food,” Allen said. As his father did, Allen insisted that his children contribute to the household income. “We went right to the field at the end of the school day and during summer breaks,” recalled his daughter, Erika Allen, who now runs Growing Power’s satellite office in Chicago. “And let’s be clear: This was farm labor, not chores.” [...]
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
President Obama was ahead of his time (photo courtesy: NY Times)
“I personally came of age,” Mr. Obama wrote in “The Audacity of Hope,” his second memoir, “during the Reagan presidency.”
It was a time when President Ronald Reagan began a trillion-dollar arms buildup, called the Soviet Union “an evil empire” and ordered scores of atomic detonations under the Nevada desert. Some Reagan aides talked of fighting and winning a nuclear war.
The popular response was the nuclear freeze movement. Dozens of books warned that Mr. Reagan’s policies threatened to end civilization and most life on Earth. In June 1982, a million protesters gathered in Central Park, their placards reading “Bread Not Bombs” and “Freeze or Burn.” The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter denouncing nuclear war.
Many Columbia students campaigned for the freeze movement, which sought a halt to additional nuclear arms deployments. Mr. Obama explored going further.
“It’s naïve for us to think,” he said, “that we can grow our nuclear stockpiles, the Russians continue to grow their nuclear stockpiles, and our allies grow their nuclear stockpiles, and that in that environment we’re going to be able to pressure countries like Iran and North Korea not to pursue nuclear weapons themselves.”
Friday, July 3, 2009
Is one woman really any more beautiful than the other?? (photo source: http://www.redbubble.net, the meanest Indian)
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
I was reminded about this again just recently, when a good friend of mine (let's call her "Anita") got fired recently. Yes, everyone's getting laid off these days, but this was sad. Anita was the perfect person for the job she was working on. While no one can still point a finger at her work quality (against all odds, she put together a stellar work product), Anita fought hard to improve the system and then got fired.
I had met Anita on a field job in India. She immediately struck me because she was strong, fearless, smart as hell, and had a mind of her own. Growing up in a village in India, it was big dreams, hard work and determination that brought her to where she is now---well-educated, traveling the world, helping poor communities everywhere. She hasn't stopped dreaming; and I hope she will never stop.
Anita's story is almost typical of other people I know who are struggling to honestly and honorably correct flawed systems. In her latest job, she was working for a group of Americans who were trying to expand their work into India. Working out of a NY office, the team scarcely knew what they were doing (this is a common theme among donors btw!! They assume that their way is the way of the world!). Considering the short time-frame, Anita, the lone Indian in the group, desperately called attention to the coming pitfalls and warned the team against their delinquent behavior. I remember her working long hours everyday for several months trying to lay the foundation because there were just TOO many mistakes. One day after months of frustration, she threatened to step down if they didn't change their behavior. Instead of acknowledging her work and her guts, she was promptly sacked and replaced by a 23 y/o American who blindly did what she was told. Anita's boss is a powerful and well-connected man within the donor community. And he has proven to be vicious in terms of wielding his power to sideline her.
The project is still going to be a success, because Anita laid such a great foundation and the organization already has a great reputation. But its ridiculous to me that a team of 5 Americans are trying to run an Indian project while based in the US; each of who has visited India once in their lives to see the Taj Mahal. The locals they have working with them say nothing because they are getting paid in dollars, and they are just happy to have jobs. So there you have it...inefficiency perpetuating itself over and over again.