Three random thoughts unrelated to New Year’s

Three things I read in the last 24 hours made me feel that despite the steady diet of woeful news, we as a world continue to make good progress on a number of fronts. The first is news from Australia that Qantas Airways has implemented a sophisticated RFID-based system that will streamline airport check-in, baggage handling, and boarding to the pleasurable extent that their frequent fliers will probably only have to speak to a human being once, and that’s only if they want to be pleasant that day.  As a frequent flier myself, anything that the airline industry can do to speed the medieval airport experience is good news.

The second thing I read was just today and it was by Richard Shapiro in his blog called Customer Think. Intelligently articulated were his wishes for customer service evolution in 2012.  As someone who has been focused on customer service as a career choice for the better part of 15 years, I found his wishes both inspiring and revolutionary.  Some basic practice changes and senior management support would benefit many companies by providing them with a competitive edge and ultimately, more satisfied customers.

Third, is this..

It’s my home town, Toronto, and it was recently voted as having the 13th best skyline in the world.

NYC and Chicago were the only other North America cities that outranked it.  Why would this image make me feel as if we’re making good progress on something? Because the picture reminds me that a city like Toronto is alive.  Its arts, education, and technology sectors are vibrant and thriving and I’m lucky enough to live in that picture, just inside the right-side edge.  In fact, I wake up to something like this view everyday.

Angst and hope; dinner companions

Got into a good laser-focused conversation on Christmas Day with my sister-in-law on whether our societies are raising people who don’t understand how underlying technologies work for everyday devices, and if that’s true, whether it really matters. How many people can say they had that sort of topic batted around the dining room table over top of the dry turkey and off-color gravy?

Older generations still marvel at take-off that 200 tons of metal and plastic can lift off the runway, the same way they wonder how the small device in their hand is able to connect without wires to someone across the continent.  My sister-in-law and I agreed that the younger generations (under 20) don’t seem to think about these things. Where we diverged is in whether that should provoke anxiety or hope. I’ve long-held the opinion that we should be working towards a world where the devices we use most are the devices we think of least. We’re there with mobile phones (the dumb ones) and we’re almost there with the smart ones too. I compare it to refrigerators, televisions, and automobile engines. When they arrived on the scene, their respective technologies stirred extreme awe and interest. Over time that curiosity waned, to the point now where only highly trained technicians are able open up the back, or hood, and figure out what’s going on. And that, I believe, is as it should be. Being unencumbered by the technical knowledge does not prevent the majority of humanity to benefit from the technical capabilities. My sister-in-law, while acknowledging that, worries that by not encouraging and stimulating a sense of curiosity and desire to look “under the hood”, to want to program a device to do something it wasn’t originally designed to do, we are surrendering our future to those nations that will.  Good point.

Unlike many family conversations across the country that day, this one did not end in bitter words of recrimination and feelings of regret because ultimately, there is no way to foresee the future. Perhaps we are boxing ourselves in and will surrender knowledge completely to those who don’t represent our best interests. On the other hand, technology has exponentially enabled so much more in the last twenty years than even our wildest futurists predicted. The answer is, we just don’t know.

RIM’s song has been sung before

As I built a Christmas playlist for a party we’re hosting tomorrow night I scanned the online news and settled on yet another story of the free fall of Research in Motion. It’s been one heck of a year for all kinds of reasons and for all kinds of people but it’s strangely fascinating to observe the arc of RIM’s year. The firm seems to be hurtling uncontrollably into the dark of night.  As a customer told me over lunch on Monday when the three of us were calculating how many Apple devices each of us owned, “It’s just so sad to watch a once great company virtually disappear in one year”. By the way, each of the three of us owns at least six Apple devices while only two RIM devices are in our collective possession.  You can do the math.  It might not be a 9:1 ratio across the globe but it’s probably pretty close.

Of course we know that the sort of business implosions RIM is experiencing do not happen overnight, nor are they due to things entirely beyond their control.  When the Harvard Business Review or University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business get around to doing an autopsy after the firm’s flesh goes cold and the buzzards have picked the choicest pieces, it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn it was likely hubris that did them in. As a student of history I can safely say that throughout time much larger forces and personalities have been done in by the exact same failing.

Thoughts on Twitter – II

Time to revisit the topic of Twitter.  It’s been about 4 months since I became active.  My employer is all over social media, something that makes it both an exciting and anxious place to work.  Exciting because it feels like all the energy in the economy and all the positive momentum is caught up in the vortexes generated by Twitter, Facebook, and Google +.  I know this is not entirely true.  There are certainly sectors that operate in blissful ignorance of social media (engineering firms, natural resources…basically, anything that is shielded from the consumer). But for everyone else, it’s jump in and jump in deep.  That’s what causes the anxiety, I think.

After 4 months I’ve learned:

  • you need to be choosy about who you follow.  Don’t automatically follow those who follow you.  Beyond the obvious ridiculous porn advances, you need to be aware of companies seeking your follower-ship.  You may end up being bombarded with auto tweets. Of course, the same is true of individuals.  Some start off with content that seems so interesting only to fade quickly into a pattern of sameness and a distinctive lack of imagination.
  • philosophers abound. I weed them out if I detect cliché.  That happens a lot.
  • Twitter can suck you in and before you know it 15 or 20 minutes have gone by.  Be careful.
  • it’s a great forum for getting real and serious information very quickly
  • it’s also a great place to get meaningless information just as quickly
  • the number of followers should not be your focus.  Instead, post quality and interesting content and the numbers will take care of themselves.

Bottom line for me: there is value and I learn things I didn’t know at a rate of speed that exceeds my expectations. It requires work though.  My advice is to be interesting, be involved, comment, post something unique, and always revisit your list of people you follow.  Prune out those who create meaningless noise.  After all, you wouldn’t let just anyone talk at you face to face.  Why allow it online?