Business Travel is a magical experience.

061113_tgiving_travel_hmed5p.hmedium.jpgIf you have spent any time in an airport at all you have seen my co-workers and I. When I say co-workers, I don’t mean the people I work with at Jump. I mean every poor bugger that has to fly across three time zones countless times a year. Even if we are not all working for the same company, we are co-workers in spirit. We are the people moving at a brisk pace down the concourse with a jacket slung over one arm, pulling a piece of luggage with another arm, a cell phone is attached to our heads with duct tape, and we are cramming a $12 slice of $1 pizza into our chattering mouths with a third arm.

Yes, the glam world of business travel. After that third airport in one day, those Sandwich Artist jobs at Subways are looking pretty damn good.

This essay is a public service announcement for the non-business flying public, or as we refer to you, civilians. In the summer travel season, the names become considerably more pointed. On a recent run of airports, meeting rooms, crappy hotels and incoherent taxi drivers, I got to listen to a person on the way back from Yuck-a-puck, AZ vigorously complaining about; “why do all these people have to use their cells phone in public? No one is that important, they can wait until they are in the office or at home. It just makes them feel special.” I would have responded directly to her, but I was busy turning my cell phone up to drown out her whining.

There are of course many nuances to the argument, not the least of which being that if I was indeed at home or in my office, you would not be listening to my business calls, and far better, I would not be blasting my eardrums drowning you out. For all those that find people in airports and airplanes conducting biz on their cell phones annoying, I tell you now: if all the cell towers suddenly crashed to the ground, there would be a small panic for a few minutes. After that, you would see a wave of rolling luggage head to the airport bar for a quiet toast to those that made this little vacation possible.

For better or worse, when you are in an airport or on a plane, you are in my office, not your living room. Business travelers account for the majority of airline revenue. Hell yes we get the perks. If you complain about having to fight you way through security for your once a year vacation, many of us do that 3 times a week and sometimes 2 times a day. Many jobs today, particularly knowledge sector jobs require extensive travel and close contact. That person sitting next to you that whips out the cell phone the moment the plane lands may well be making or returning the first of several calls that they have to make in a 30 minute window while running through the airport for the next connection. No one likes living this way, but we do it because for better or worse, the reality of today’s business environment demands it.

The next time you find yourself annoyed at the array of phones beeping to life the moment the wheels touchdown, remember that you are headed home or on vacation. For a lot of us it just means catching up on our delayed work day. And if you should find yourself blocking the aisle in the plane, and no place to put you bag, ask for help from the person in the disheveled three day wrinkled suit behind you. Chances are pretty good it’s a pro and will be happy to help you get sorted out. Then you can both sit down and look forward to three or four hours away from the cell phone.

Great design is NOT simply the personification of its creator

Starckbook.jpgI recently responded to a post by Helen Waters on the Business Week NEXT blog titled “How to create a product that lasts today.” She has a quote in the entry that seems like it is a bit more old-school thinking. The text is below:

It’s an interesting thing to see a quote like “Great design is simply the personification of its creator” in the context of a blog about innovation in 2007. Most of our clients (Jump Associates) are aware that relying on a single genius who seems to have the muses on speed dial is a short term strategy at best. That’s why the companies that understand design as a strategic competence understand there’s more to it than tossing colored pencils to those funny creatives the marketers never talk to. Great design is more often the result of the hard work of many people, insights that other people missed, and having the skills, talents and resources to execute on that design in a defensible way. Steve Jobs is one of the most significant influences on design today, but Apple has an army of brilliant designers of all kinds that actually design… not Jobs. He didn’t show up at the office one morning with the iTunes model engraved on one stone table and a CAD drawing of an iPod on the other. (Though I certainly admit, it sure seems like that’s possible.)

Being able to create buzz and adroitly follow trends, is not the same thing as monetizing that buzz for sustainable growth and remaining relevant to the motivations and needs expressed in those trends. It’s just those companies that rely on buzz or trends that don’t generally stay afloat. What got a bigger buzz than Segway? For every Facebook and Myspace, I can’t count the number of dot-bombs out there that are dead or dying trying to follow that trend. The skilled ability to monetize buzz and surf trends without chasing them is just what the fashion industry is exceedingly good at. The fashion industry is often the place we look for “what’s next” in color, materials, textures, even emotional out look. But the major names don’t change their Look with a capitol “L” with every fad. It does not matter if you are talking about Gucci and Armani or Land’s End and Diesel, they have a distinctive look that responds to trends, but are not tossed out wholesale and started over because of them.

There are designs out there that are all about being the personification of its creator. I am interested in those as well, but they have a different place than something like the iPod. Take Philippe Starck as an example. I don’t go to a hotel designed by or in collaboration with him to have an experience I am used to; I go because I want to experience his vision, his whimsy. But what Starck is after is quite different from what Jobs is after. Jobs is looking for design to express a vision that will resonate with people and reframe how we see such ordinary tasks as buying music. Starck is more interesting in tweaking the world’s nose, letting you see what resonates with him.

The iPod can be compared with the Olivetti Valentine typewriter, as a design icon of its own, that celebrates the elegance of form and function to a mundane task. In contrast, Starck’s Juicy Salif juicer is a much closer relation to Duchamp’s Dadaist Fountain urinal installation. Starck’s juicer is a monument to uselessness. The unholy love child of a 1940’s rocketship and a sex toy, his juicer, like Duchamp’s Fountain, makes no pretense to actual functionally. That and people like to metaphorically pee on both of them. Its all about the designer expressing their desire to create an artifact and the actual outcome be damned. I’m fine with that, I like sculptural things that aren’t really functional if that is what I am expecting. If I want to juice, I have a $2 plastic hand juicer that works like a dream in my cupboard.

There is a place for the lone genius, and the hard working team, the question is who’s ride do you want to take in the moment?

I admit it, I am fascinated by the Paris Hilton saga

I am indeed one of those people that was a bit pleased that she was hauled screaming out of the court room and back into a cozy little jail cell, and following the unfolding circus on all week. Americans love to see this scenario played out over and over again. Leona Helmsley (aka The Queen of Mean), Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Martha Stewart and of course who can forget the boys of Enron?

People don’t feel this way because we are inherently mean and cold-hearted. When the rich and famous run afoul of the law and vice, it speaks to a number of social rules that Americans in particular cannot abide being broken. I have written previously about one reason why we are so obsessed with celebrity in the entry “Quick, look over there. No, don’t stare Dammit!” They are as close as we get to the tangible, knowable gods we used to have in the past.

There are several elements at work when people are dismayed at this preferential treatment and pleased with a heavy punishment. But here are just a couple.

To start with, we are fascinated by and resent people that are famous for being famous. They confound the American protestant work-ethic ideals. Fame and wealth belong to those that can somehow prove they deserve it. Attached to this is the idea of adding some value or service back to society. We resent those we see as just taking up space without seeing anything valuable coming back. (ironically some of the same resentments we apply to this genre of celebrity are also applied to the homeless). We are curiously socialist when it comes to wealth. Bill Gates who, depending on the stock market at the time, can be the world’s richest man and seen as an innovation crushing monopolist. However, here is no question that he actually did something, something very important. His social reputation improved as well with his 33 billion dollar Gates Foundation. We may whine about his wealth and business practices, but as a culture we would be horrified to seem him go to jail. Its why we love/hate lottery winners: when the family on hard times wins an unimaginable amount of money we feel like “the little” guy is getting a break. At the same time, they will get mountains of mail from people demanding they cough up some of that cash (its not like they earned it) to them, for no reason as well.

The other element why we love to see Paris Hilton and Martha Stewart go to jail or prison is because they screwed up a good thing. They had a deal that 99% of us can only dream of (and of course we imagine ourselves putting to much better use…indeed) and got nailed because they wanted more, or flaunted the rules or engaged in some other form of hubris. When I was doing my graduate fieldwork in a state prison, it was a common attitude among the inmates with long prison and / or criminal records. Sure they were pissed off about a lot of things, but a rich, well educated person that that seemingly has it all and winds up in jail for doing something stupid? Make no mistake, they hate you and resent you for being a screw up.

See how much in common you have with an inmate? That always good to bear in mind.