Monday, September 19, 2005

Two Ways of Decision Making

A lot of conflict or disjointedness appears linked to two, almost opposite forms of decision making. Some organizations adopt "information and principle based" while others use "who’s asking" often combined with "go along, get along." Often in the real world people seem to live on a one-way street, and of course, they prefer the latter to the former, except when they become roadkill on someone else’s one-way street.

There are benefits to each style…one is more sustainable while the other is less controversial and more malleable…one is more rational while the other is "personal." It also isn’t a question of public vs. private. It's true private organizations or advocacy groups can more quickly change or flip back and forth between the two styles of decision making, but while in principle, public organizations are expected to be information or principle based, the reality, as one elected official recently put it, is that politics is personal and partisan by definition, not rational.

I know which one I prefer, but that isn’t the issue, and my point isn’t about value judgments. The issue is that when two organizations, each with the opposite style of decision making, try to collaborate, it’s a car crash and bad feelings result. When one style of organization is required to make recommendations to inform another with the opposite style, it is guaranteed to result in a car crash and bad feelings.

Once a style is part of a corporate or organizational culture, it’s almost impossible to change. But a lot of lost productivity, heartache and bad feelings could be avoided if organizations recognize and respect up front that decision making styles may be different and then agree on which one will be used for the partnership.

But realistically, it usually isn’t possible for the information or principle based organization to compromise, and for the "who’s asking" style, it's not about the best decisions but the relationships.

It has taken half a century to figure this out, and now I sure see the crash coming in slow motion, but the styles are so inherently different, I haven’t found effective ways to head it off.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

It's About Coordination & Division of Effort, Not Turf

Durham has many strengths, but for the last five years, one of them has not been collaboration. Lately, it's like agencies and groups hatch ideas believing they are in a vacuum. Without doing an analysis of what is already in play or working through groups charged with certain areas, people charge off and reinvent the wheel or, worse, get things so disjointed and convoluted that it bogs everything down just sorting it out.

It impacts DCVB because everyone these days straps "tourism" to the front of any effort to make something feasible, most often without ever checking with the organization charged with spearheading tourism development. They’ll sit right in front me in a meeting and do it, so I’m not sure it is intentional.

I'll use an example to try to explain the absurdity of this phenomenon. It would be like DCVB hearing from visitors that the roads need to be improved, so instead of calling the City or State, the Bureau just goes out and lets bids and starts laying pavement. We might do a pretty good job, but why create that kind of disjointed chaos and distract from our true mission?

I hope we get over it. It's not common to Durham, just the last five years.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Two new Durham visitor features

Durham has certainly starred when it comes to building or launching new visitor-related facility and events. More than 20 have been launched over the last 10 years, and another 10 are under development. These stats mask that the new developments include hundreds of new restaurants and 30 new lodging facilities with nearly 3,000 rooms.

In the next two weeks, though, two huge new visitor features will open in Durham. The $25 million expansion and update of the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club will be complete, and the $23 million Nasher Museum of Art will open.

I know from a sneak peek how spectacular Nasher will be. Attendance at art museums has risen considerably over the last few years just as attendance at performing arts has stagnated and Broadway touring attendance has plummeted. It's all about a fast growing consumer behavior that the RAND Corporation reports call “consumption by appointment.” Flexibility has become a critical leisure time variant, and with museums, you can come and go on your own schedule.

Nasher also completes a full- to half-day culture trail with the new Art Museum, Duke Gardens, Duke Chapel and the Duke Sports Hall of Fame all in a walk.

WADU as we affectionately refer to the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club is one of the highest-rated properties in the State and the bellwether of Durham’s 6 total major convention hotels and 60 overall lodging properties. The renovation provided more meeting space, more guest rooms and Durham’s third legitimate business conference center.

For more info on new visitor developments go to

Lest we forget, though, experts have identified “build it and they will come” as a very dangerous paradigm for communities. Leisure travelers in particular always make a decision about where to do before considering what to do, etc. Durham, compared to competitors, puts much less of its occupancy tax to work for the purpose for which it was pioneered--destination marketing or the activity of drawing visitors to make these new facilities sustainable.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Postal Street Delivery Assignments Confuse Travelers

Sometime in the '90s the United States Postal Service started randomly assigning street delivery designations that don’t coincide with physical location. In other words, to make it more convenient for USPS, a business or residence located in the City of Durham, is often assigned a USPS mail delivery address with the name of another city in a completely different county, e.g., Butner, Hillsborough, Morrisville or Chapel Hill.

No question this was apparently convenient for the Postal Service. Apparently it was important for the address to reflect the location of the building from which the carrier embarked. I even had one official try to argue that it was done because Durham didn’t care.

However it plays havoc with visitors and newcomers who use a mailing address to find an actual physical location. In fact, it isn’t just inconvenient: it’s cruel, often taking people miles out of their way only to find out the address didn’t actually reflect a location which, in truth, is in a completely different community.

It also confuses entire hotel chains who list properties in directories by mailing address, believing it’s a safe bet the physical location is the same. It has improved, but it still confuses online services that provide point-to-point directions. It is still a problem for some that use old hardwired databases. Newcomers have been so confused they've taken children to the wrong schools or mailed tax payments to the wrong city and county.

In the early '90s, Durham successfully argued to have the Morrisville addresses corrected that had been confusingly assigned to the entire SE part of the City of Durham including scores of hotels. Now, it’s time to correct the others.

It takes persistence and coordinated effort, but it can be done. A community’s brand and identity are pivotal to economic development as well as clear and accurate communication.

There has to be a better way for USPS to identify carrier routes, e.g., ZIP code.