Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Everyone Should Visit Nursing Homes

I just went out to the Pacific Northwest to visit my Mom. She lives alone with a little Pekinese dog named Charlie. They are both getting on in years. She goes two blocks away for several hours twice a day to help care for her husband who’s in a nursing home with severe Alzheimer’s. She has severe macular degeneration.

It's inspiring to see how she navigates, stays organized, uses the computer and a cell phone, all with only very limited peripheral vision. She’s hell on nursing home staff, making sure that, even though her husband Leon is virtually unaware, he gets timely care.

I feel like such a whiner after seeing the folks in that nursing home. Most can’t communicate very well or have deteriorated physically. Many are in wheelchairs and need to be moved from place to place. People like Leon, even if they don’t weigh 250 lbs., have to be lifted out of chairs or beds with a machine. Most have very few visits from anyone or a gentle touch.

I think everyone should walk through a nursing home once a week. One, it should remind us that we aren’t very kind as a society to people as they exit this life. We storehouse them, debate and stall research like stem cells, refuse to let them decide when they die and, each year, cut the funding for nursing homes.

But a visit to these places would also help us all be more inspired... Inspired to be more resilient and determined and to whine less, if at all, about how tough our life is. Inspired to be more humane and communicate better. Inspired to be less defensive and to listen. Inspired to strive harder each day to do a better job, to find ways to around obstacles, to continually improve and to say what’s on our mind.

I come back from these trips full of fire and determination to expect much more of myself.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Being Quick Has Its Drawbacks

From a fairly young age, I was told that I had two key strengths for someone in my career. One is the ability to see further into the future than most people and, with it, the ability to make applications with what appeared to be foresight. Second is the ability to very rapidly detect “personal agendas” when individuals or groups interact.

I’ve always taken those comments at face value, but over a career and hearing them repeated, I’ve come to accept there may be something to these comments. Like everyone else, I’ve never been anyone but me, so I couldn’t really see these things from the inside.

But for every strength, there are drawbacks. I’ve had to learn that, while I could vision further, that made it even harder to bring people along to share a point of view. It also makes me very vulnerable to people who only think in concrete or literal terms and focus primarily on checking things off the list rather than calibrating to the future.

At first I would see the “rolled eyes,” or worse, people would just ignore what I said, rather than ask questions. I’ve tried a lot of things to deal with this over the years, but by natural selection, I’ve come to work with people who either trusted what I was saying or asked good questions.

More problematic has been the ability to detect “agendas.” Because I detect them very early, I also react rapidly and sometimes too fast to be strategic. The personal or group agendas and dynamics are so clear to me I can’t fathom that others don’t see them. I’m also surprised that they see me as defensive when I respond… only to later marvel that I had been right on.

Of course, being able to detect people’s agendas means that I’m not usually included in what we call the “good ole boy” club. However, that has never bothered me a whit.

These two gifts also mean that I can get caught not reading or listening more carefully. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reacted, only to change my mind considerably once I studied an exchange in more detail.

I don’t regret having these abilities. I am puzzled, though, that, after so many years, my ability to adapt to their drawbacks is so agonizingly slow.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

New Brand Wears Well

I have to admit, I had my doubts during the overarching brand process, but the outcome is really wearing well on me the more I read it and view the signature elements.

First doubt I had was if it was possible at all to come up with something overarching for a community as complex as Durham. Polls show that Durhamites have an extraordinary relationship with their community, and while that is positive, it presents challenges to branding. The closer people feel to a community, the more they want their individual perspective to be the brand.

Second, the process itself was painful and a lot of hard work. It isn’t a direct path between A and B. It involves incredible amounts of networking (nearly 50 different segments of the community and hundreds of people), the working and reworking, listening and relistening and, most of all, informing anecdotal views with more generalizable input.

Third, I know as well as anyone that a logo and especially a logo and tagline are not a brand. I wasn’t drawn immediately to the elements that tested so well. But very rapidly now, as I’ve seen the breadth of application and let the symbols and words roll around in my head, it has grown on me.

Lastly, I now have to have patience while others go through the same process and even more patience with the months and years it will take to embed this brand and measure its effectiveness.

Overall though, this has been an incredibly informative process. Even the questioning and second-guessing of latecomers have been both informative for the next go-round and an opportunity to reach people about a topic in which many would not otherwise engage.

We also owe a great deal of thanks to Total Destination Management for patiently guiding Durham through this process.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Sometimes people in my profession embarrass me. It seems many aren’t pushing to continually improve. For some, it’s all about who’s asking and you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Sometimes we sound like a selfish clique, looking out only for our own interests. We don’t listen to the needs of other sectors; we just want them to support tourism, well, just because.

Take the school calendar discussion. It’s clearly important to some destinations but not nearly the majority. Other school issues are equally or more important to many of our stakeholders, and they won’t be served by one-size-fits-all or if we “circle the wagons” around some issues, just because they were raised by other tourism officials.

What would others say if we as tourism officials stuck our nose into the way they conduct their business? I think tourism is far more deeply and broadly embraced in destinations where tourism officials are as concerned about other stakeholder needs as they are about those of special interests.

What if the liquor stores/ABC boards all got together and tried to make all of the churches in North Carolina stop holding services on Sunday mornings? Their argument might be along the lines of, “It’s hurting our business, because people don’t want to stay out late on Saturday nights.” And of course, “If we free up people to stay out late drinking, think of the economic benefit that would result…all of those tax dollars for government (not to mention a tidy profit for the distributors).”

Never mind that some communities and some churches would likely say, “It’s fine if you want to change, but leave us alone…we’re quite happy with our service hours on Sunday morning.” Can you imagine how it would feel to have your church hours legislated by a small group having no idea of the consequences of that to each faith community, on the basis of how important the economic benefit would be?

Part of maturing as a profession is being able to ask very difficult questions of one another and treat issues that impact others in a way that we would like tourism treated.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why Many Listservs Lose Diversity of Opinion

It is disturbing that many listserv comments are used for attacks or result in “piling on” rather than civil discourse. The initial genius of listservs was that they provided an easy way to share opinions and get feedback. But many people on listservs are now only “listeners.”

My theory is that email is a difficult medium in which to gauge tone and humor, especially among relative strangers. So while listservs promote unbridled expression (sometimes vehement, strident or derisive), they require little transparency or accountability for statements and are easily hijacked.

People can vent frustration, often with little justification or rationale. Hidden agendas are easily fostered. These aspects are more than a bit chilling to public discourse. It's the same reason small groups can dominate public hearings. Often they are dominated only by negative agendas or ulterior motives or at best prone to overstatement and theatrics (thus the popular saying, any 30 people in orange T-shirts can determine outcomes).

So listservs to me serve a purpose, but they aren’t nearly as democratic or as engaging as once thought. Oh, they are often democratic in that anyone can sign up and in relative anonymity say whatever they want, but they don’t often yield true discourse, and that’s disappointing.