Archive for April, 2010


Commercial aviation and the Icelandic ash cloud

20 April, 2010

Whilst I am deeply sympathetic for the people stranded on either side of the Atlantic and other places affected by the currently active Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland I am not so sympathetic towards the commercial airline operators who are crying that if the crisis doesn’t end soon they may go out of business.

If they don’t have plans in place to tide them over during situations like this then that’s their fault. It’s the aviation industry’s fault that they’ve allowed the market to drive down prices to such a narrow margin that they are unable to set aside contingency money and run such a high-risk business that any upset can see them wrap up operations in a matter of weeks. If it wasn’t a volcano it’d be floods, or earthquakes, or terrorism or war.

Things go wrong and responsible business operators anticipate and prepare to survive such things. Seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.

As a contractor it is entirely my responsibility to set aside money to ensure I can pay the bills when I need to take a week off work due to sickness or when I’m unemployed for several months between jobs. My responsibility entirely. I get paid an hourly rate that takes that into consideration.

Business should have the same attitude.

I am highly dubious that airlines have plans in place. Just look at how passengers who are stranded overnight at an airport due to a single flight cancellation are often treated? Airlines have no idea what to do, no infrastructure in place and just leave passengers to fend for themselves.

Whilst we will all suffer if airlines go out of business at the end of the day if they aren’t running their business responsibly then there’s no place for them in the market.

And don’t get me started on the GFC …


Less doing, more thinking (to do better)

16 April, 2010

I’m going to blog far more substantially about today’s Innovative Ideas Forum 2010 held at the National Library of Australia later on this evening, but my initial impressions are less about the content of the conference and more about how I feel.

Events like IIF2010 cause me to reflect and be disappointed in myself. I’m frustrated that I don’t think more, that I don’t come up with more ideas, that too often I go with the status quo or think small picture instead of challenging and thinking big and radical.

Too often I find myself in the trench wondering how on earth I’m going to sprint across No Man’s Land to the enemy trenches rather than questioning the assumption that I have to attack head on.

As Rob Manson said, we spend so much time thinking about and discussing iPhone or iPad interaction models and it doesn’t even occur to us to consider the long-term cultural impacts of the introduction of such technology. We latch onto something and that dominates the conversation. I’ll talk more about Genevieve’s presentation in my full review of the Forum but her presentation was an eye-opener, and to me as a user experience practitioner it really shouldn’t have been. That annoys me.

It annoys me because I am the ideas person, I work in a strategic communications team, I’m an early adopter, leading others into the future … and yet I attend events like today’s Forum and I realise that I’m completely myopic and I need to push myself even further, question everything assumption, throw out every prediction and really innovate. I don’t make enough time for that, I don’t push back from the desk often enough.

It makes me feel entirely inadequate and I just want to kick my own arse.

Instead, I’ll go have a gin & tonic.


Good staff induction is vital

9 April, 2010

Failure to get the first day right for a new starter and you could disadvantage them for days, months and possibly even the duration of their employment. New staff should ask questions but it’s inevitable that they will make some assumptions where you as an inductor (perhaps in the role of team leader or co-worker) fail to provide the information they need.

For some people who change jobs regularly (like me) we know the drill: there’s policies that need to be read and signed as having been understood, tax file number and superannuation paperwork … that’s not the sort of induction I’m talking about particularly here.

Think of it like taking someone to meet your family. You want everyone to feel comfortable with each other as soon as possible, facilitate the creation of relationships and understanding of each other’s preferences, culture and social norms.

As a superficial example, failing to introduce a new starter to everyone in a team on their first day can set them back months as they then have to on their own time and initiative go around and meet everyone individually. Much easier if you facilitate that and get it all over and done with in an hour.

People need to build a mental model about the complex web of relationships, politics, power and accepted behaviour and if you don’t provide them with that model then they’ll form their own, likely incorrect, one that can only cause inefficiencies and maybe even embarrassment.

I know my first day on a job is usually a bit overwhelming. I’m a sponge for information but being an introvert social interactions can be draining and I’m hopeless with names and faces.

Understand that people have different Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic (VAK) learning preferences and if you can’t ascertain what preference a new staff member has then cover your bases. I’m a visual learner so I prefer diagrams, lists etc especially things I can take away and study or use as prompts in future. In meetings with new people I’ll draw a diagram of the table on my notepad and put people’s names against each chair during introductions.

Organisational structures can be a nightmare. Firstly, because there are usually dozens of names to remember and secondly because such formal structures are rarely representative of the true political model. You can have non-executive staff who have more influence with senior management than managers, even their own. That’s the real sort of model people need to get their head around. Unfortunately you can’t really explicitly describe such models – some people would be furious if they found out such truths. Nonetheless it’s the sort of information people really need and can be useful straight up rather than leaving them to figure it out for themselves and miss out on opportunities.

What are your thoughts on this other important side of employee induction?


Your purpose in life

6 April, 2010

Why are you here? Whether you’re a Christian, Buddhist, Atheist or otherwise it helps to have a purpose in life. Without a purpose, you drift through your life from day to day without an ultimate goal that guides your decisions and lifestyle choices and will probably end up at the end of your life wondering what you actually accomplished and why you bothered living your life to it’s natural conclusion.

Without understanding your purpose in life you may even wonder why you should go on living and maybe entertain thoughts of suicide – I know I have.

You as a person are not limited to your physical body or even your conscious life. You will exist after your body has died. I’m not talking about ghosts and spirits but the impact you make on the Universe during your life will linger on after you die. It may be that people remember your name and have a awareness of what you did in your life and that knowledge then guides people, influences decisions. Perhaps you actually made a physical difference in the world – contributed towards shaping cultural change or improving the lives of those in need.

Perhaps your name will be forgotten, but you still affected history, affected the world and affected society. It’s like a giant patchwork spanning thousands of years that everyone comes along, sews in their piece, and then leaves. Your contribution to the fabric of society – even if so minor no one even notices – is what our future is founded on.

Your purpose in life is to contribute in a positive and meaningful way to that future, to guide our society – even if you’re only nudging a handful of people a few degrees – towards a happier more hopeful future, aiming for a future without poverty, famine and disease. There will always be grief, people will continue to die and we should not aim for immortality. The natural order of things, the circle of life, is that we must die and we should resign ourselves to that unchangeable fate of every person. But in other things, we should have a picture in our minds of a utopian society and put our shoulder to the work.

We may have to move this block of stone miles to get there, but a mile is made up of yards, and yards of inches and if you only move it one inch then that’s one inch closer to a better future.

Don’t be selfish, don’t say “That future is a future without me – so why should I bother?”. This society gave birth to you, nurtured you and now you owe it a debt, to advance our civilisation, our species, to propel it towards a state of freedom, peace and prosperity for all.

Do not say “I can’t make a difference” because just by being alive you can make a difference. Even once you’re dead you will still be making a difference, so don’t give up. Just do something, anything. As long as it’s positive and in the best interests of humanity then that’s all we ask.


Easter weekend away

4 April, 2010

SpotlitAfter cancelling plans to travel down to Tasmania for Easter we found a cottage between Goulburn and Bathurst near Black Springs that was available for a few nights.

Our trip up was eventful; we stumbled on two snakes on the road: one which was either a copperhead or a red belly black and another which was likely a tiger snake, plus a blue-tongue lizard.

Our cottage was on a farm and so on our second day there our host took us for a tour around the farm to see their cattle, sheep, alpacas and donkeys as she went around feeding the animals, moving animals to different paddocks and checking the farm.

It was good to see such responsible farm management, in contrast to some of the farm’s neighbours whose land was being “raped and pillaged” by the owners as our host described it. Bare dirt scars in the land, no trees, even cases of mistreatment of animals.

Having read my dad’s university textbooks from his degree in forestry when I was young I had some idea of land management and conservation and it’s disappointing to see people who take no pride in their work, no interest in sustainability who prefer to live in selfish ignorance rather than be informed and look after the environment.

Our host on the other hand showed us the fenced-off old-growth eucalypt forest and new plantings they had put in with government assistance. Unfortunately the government is no longer offering that grant.

They’re also putting in solar panels with surplus which they’ll be putting back into the grid, also with the government assistance which unfortunately will no longer be offered from next month.

Delays with getting wind farms established and the rapidly shrinking Oberon Dam not to mention the entire water table from poor water management through increased population from land sub-division and industry has left me feeling quite pessimistic about Australia’s future.

I believe there is still a chance to reverse the damage … but we first need to put the brakes on before we can start going back the other way and it looks like not enough people in positions of authority and influence are doing enough because we’re still running out of water and natural resources, and are screaming ahead at full-speed into disaster.

Will somebody think of the children?