Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Seeing Into the Future Is Frustrating

Applying historical trends to the future works for me. It's always been so easy. The frustrating part is that the world appears much more interested in the anecdotal crisis of the day.

So we slip quietly toward a tipping point for global warming. We slip into another Vietnam, not more than 30 years from when we said never again.

In my world, when I’m not trying to explain that visitors are an important source of economic development, I’m trying to warn people not to take it for granted.

Take tax revenue. We can’t take visitors for granted. Oh we learned that in the aftermath of 9/11. It provided a tragic example of what happens to tax revenue and small businesses when the plug is suddenly pulled on travel.

There is a long-term issue that worries me. It isn’t enough that the competition for visitors is more and more fierce. We could be extremely successful as a destination and still be dead even in the near future, when business travel continues its long, slow decline and we just barely replace those travelers with new leisure travelers.

To me it means we need to be deploying significant increases in promotion and marketing just to ensure that the current base of visitors keeps growing. More is needed because transitioning to new markets is always more expensive than growing existing ones.

But people glaze over when you talk about more than 5 years from now, just as many complain if they have to read 10 to 20 pages to apply findings from a report. We’re becoming more and more anecdotal, more and more spoon-fed by the crisis or topic du jour, and in the meantime, we’re ignoring some very real threats in the future.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Street Delivery Designations

For more than a decade, the United States Postal Service has assigned mailing addresses to homes and businesses that are different than the physical location of that home or business. Yup, it adds a whole new meaning to catch-22. I know it’s been that long because I have an editorial from the National League of Cities decrying the practice.

We’re working to get them corrected in Durham. There are tons of reasons for you to have an address that is the same as your physical location and only one for making them different. Our regional post office is in Greensboro, and they seem much more reasonable, but when it was in Raleigh, I was told during a phone conversation years ago that the postal service assigns your address based on where the post office is located that delivers your mail.

So if a post office in one community needs more work to meet its capacity or the postal service anticipates the need for additional facilities, it just goes over into a nearby community (or not so near in some cases) and assigns mail delivery addresses that coincide with the station where your carrier picks up your mail in the morning but totally different than your physical location.

I can see how that benefits the postal service, but why did they make it our problem? With zip codes, it shouldn’t matter if your physical location is Timbuktu and the carrier picks up your mail in Chapel Hill. The address should still coincide with the physical location.

Okay, I’ll calm down. We are making very slow progress in getting corrections. When I first came to Durham, half of the hotels in the City of Durham had been assigned to receive mail as Morrisville, NC, a small town in another county.

I believe the “cons” to this policy vastly outweigh the singular convenience to the postal service. Here are just a few ways this practice is harmful to people and communities:
  • It confuses visitors and newcomers who still predominately use addresses to find physical locations and only logically expect them to be the same.
  • It undermines or dilutes a community's brand or persona, causing economic harm.
  • It confuses people about where their kids go to school, where to pay taxes and where to vote, where to move, how to avoid commutes etc.
  • It even confuses the cable company, which often makes assignments based on the mail delivery designation.
  • It confuses the news media and results in inaccurate datelines. It also confuses the PR person supplying news releases.
  • It confuses the headquarters for many businesses, which end up advertising locations as a city different than the physical location of the store and often publish directories with stores that are located in one community under the heading of another community, thus negating the entire purpose.
  • It confuses companies conducting marketing research or public opinion polling.
  • It confuses Internet mapping services and websites.
  • It confuses Realtors and brokers, home sellers and home buyers.
  • It confuses advertising agencies.
  • It confuses delivery drivers.
  • It makes people feel stupid.
I won’t go on, but I could… forever. My point is there are many ways for the postal service to be efficient and still synchronize mail delivery addresses with actual physical locations. I’m sure by now the people who came up with this practice have retired… so let's grant amnesty (by the way, this practice was never reviewed at any level of government) and get it corrected across the board.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Student On My Mind

Repeatedly over the last week, I’ve thought about a young student who just traveled to Durham and enrolled at Duke University.

She is the first person in her family to go to college. She took the bus from her home in another state. She had student aid, maybe a scholarship, but when she got here, it became clear there was a gap for other needs, like a computer.

I’ve been wondering about how someone gets this motivated. Who in her life fueled that drive?

I’m amazed at students in public school here in Durham. Have you ever reviewed the end-of-grade tests they take? They are difficult and demanding. I’d bet most of the adults pointing fingers at the school system wouldn’t pass them.

Same with the new SAT and that monster essay part. Whew! When I went to school, there were no end-of-grade tests. And for both the ACT and SAT, there were maybe 50 of us in the library… and the results were never put in the newspaper.

We have great kids coming up right now…. Things are complex for them, but I am so proud of people like this new student at Duke… and inspired.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How We're Perceived in the Presence of Others

In the early '80s when I was at the Anchorage (AK) CVB, we called on Roher, Hibler and Replogle. RHR at the time was a pioneer in management consulting and organizational development, kind of a precursor to coaching. In Durham we do the same with Performance Management, Inc.

I often recall a statement the consultant said to me in passing one day. He said, “You see everyone as equals, but other people don’t. Many people see people as friends or enemies, losers or winners, allies or obstacles.” He went on to explain, “You don’t realize the impact you have on people in your presence.”

It struck home, but more than 20 years later, I’m better but I’m still really not cognizant of the impact I have on people in my presence. The consultant told me I would always have problems with this... something about intense focus.

My hands shake. It began as a young boy, and it has gotten steadily worse. It’s called familial or essential tremor. The condition isn’t degenerative, but it’s embarrassing. I’ve read it’s a distant relative of Parkinson’s.

My first recollection was in the second or third grade when the teacher had us all gathered around a table to make a rock garden with “bluing.” It was like bleach, and you couldn’t spill it, but sure enough, she handed the bottle to me and said, “Pour only a small amount and be very careful.” The rest is history.

In high school I was the first person to learn to type (out of self-preservation). In my 40s, I even had to change my writing hand… but now they are both just as bad.

I see people during conversations suddenly become focused on my hands. I can see them wonder if I’m nervous, and maybe it sometimes makes me more human to them… less confident, assured, focused, intent… some make jokes that get back to me. Others assume I’m either vulnerable or ready to come loose on them. ;-)

I really do see everyone as equals, and I guess that isn’t going to change; neither will the tremor in my hands.