When collaboration goes wrong – Why the power of your network is vital

In today’s connected world, we have had to learn to find ways to break down silos, to work in networks and to collaborate with others. I believe that the power of your network is keenly related to your ability to survive.  It is a key part of the so-called “web 2.0” world.  Most companies struggle with this because it requires two fundamental shifts:

  • getting internal teams to work together
  • listening to customers

I have long felt that you are as strong as your network, the people you know and the people with whom you are associated. In some countries such as Japan, China or Korea, in order to do business, companies typically need to create partnerships or joint ventures with local players, and it’s not always obvious with whom to partner.

The power of your network in the CLOUD

On my most recent trip to Australia, I flew to Melbourne via Guangzhou.  I am a frequent flyer on Air France, part of the SkyTeam alliance, and for the leg from Guangzhou to Melbourne, flew on China Southern Airlines (CZ – corrected 27 Sept 2013 thanks to Olivier’s comment!).  CZ is one of the 19 partner airlines of SkyTeam.  As such, I assumed that CZ would be of similar quality to AF.  It turns out, from what I understand, that CZ is the largest, but third best airline in China, and a far cry from the AF standards.  Granted, this is from an experience on just two flights (same route), but if CZ is a large organization, boasting the largest fleet and network of routes within China, it is not on par with Air France.  I note, meanwhile, that SkyTeam also has three other Chinese partners.

Skyteam brands, Minter Dialogue

INCONSISTENT MESSAGING

Aside from the fact that the “SkyTeam” pre-roll advertisement on the inflight entertainment directly contradicted my experience boarding (priority boarding was closer to a mass rugby scrum), there were some major disappointments in the level of service on board.  The staff was well meaning, but the caliber of service in business class was substantially weak.

QUALITY IN THE DETAILS

For starters (literally), the appetizer was a rather poor excuse for a starter.  I think the term would be closer to an unappetizer.   Presentation, quantity and choice were below standard.  See for yourself.

China Southern Air Appetizer, Minter Dialogue

THE IMPORTANCE OF WRITING

The menu was handed out before take-off.  The CZ process requires that I pre-order my meal before take-off.  The English language version featured a little storytelling.  Aside from the rather primitive story and incompatibility with the meal I was served, I noticed a couple of grammatical errors in the menu.  Can you find them?

China Southern Air menu, Minter Dialogue

I cannot reveal to you the discomfort of the Business Class seat (barely the equivalent of Economy Premium in Air France, with a 3-tier seat that provided an incline of under 120 degrees). It measured just 48cm in width.  Meanwhile, the inflight entertainment system was broken.  Symptomatic of the situation, the “remote” was rather beaten up (see below).  And the choice of films was reminiscent of TV in 1970s with a selection of around 15 English language movies.

Power of your network - China Southern Air Hand Remote, Minter Dialogue

The moral of the story

You are your network.  CZ is clearly pulling down the Sky Team partnership.  In a flat world, companies need a strong coalition to cover the four corners.  I wonder how Sky Team came to the conclusion that they should ink a deal with CZ.  Perhaps they underestimated the need to have partners, thinking that they were able to manage themselves.  Perhaps they were slow to recognize the legitimate interest in BRIC “third world” countries.  Perhaps they were too late to sign up the better alternatives?

China Southern Airline’s motto is “Fly like the first time.”  Clearly, they have forgotten to cater to those who have flown before!  In their trailer, they gently wax: Whichever you trip you take, preparing is like child’s play, featuring kids running around in a backyard.  They even feature a gratuitous Labrador dog in their trailer.  All rather puzzling and unrelated to the business in which they are operating.

As part of the SkyTeam network, there are 520 member business class lounges around the world… I had no major quibbles about the CZ lounge in Guangzhou, but on my return leg, I had to make do with the AF side of the lounge and there were no quiet and/or comfortable seats.  I was disappointed that there was no access to the CZ side!  Here again for SkyTeam members, one expects consistency in quality throughout the network, otherwise, it degrades the value of belonging to the network.

Power of your network

In any event, the formation of Sky Team, is an excellent demonstration of how and why it is critical to choose the right partners and to form strong partnerships.

I know there are many horror stories in travel.  This was far from a horrible experience.  Here, I wanted to illustrate the power of your network, rather than just berate CZ.  The staff on board were indeed well intentioned (and I send a special wing tip to the Purser, Ms Lin, on my return journey).

Sense of Balance – Astounding criminal justice inconsistencies

I love Eddie Izzard. Do you?

Eddie Izzard, on The Myndset Brand StrategyIn one of his absolutely best skits, dressed in his executive transvestite garb, in Dressed to Kill, Izzard says that we all know how to name and punish someone who murders one or several people.  We have monikers such as a serial killer and mass murderer.  However, Izzard points out that we come up blank when it comes to labelling individuals who murder over a hundred thousand people (read: Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot…).

Murder and the penal system is a tricky and sensitive topic. Not an easy dinner table conversation, by any standard. It is not a topic that leaves one neutral.  Perhaps because of the level of sensitivity, it seems that the world has no sense of balance or center of gravity in the affair.

Around the world, it is astounding to see the range of standards for dealing with criminals. There is the autocratic, unmerciful, unsupervised version in certain radical states (China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen are purportedly the top 4 in meting out the death penalty, followed unceremoniously by the US)*.  As of May 2012, the death penalty is legal in 33 states in the US. Then, according to various laws, some countries will hand out sentences of “life imprisonment” – with life being some fanciful number, well below 100 years.

It seems curious when you can have, in the “developed” world, such discrepancies in sentences.  Murder can be far less punishable than financial embezzlement.  Here are a sampling of different cases:

  • The 74-year-old Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years (and $17B in forfeiture) after his titanic Ponzi scheme came apart. [USA]
  • The 31-year-old Jerome Kerviel was sentenced to pay $6.7B in fines and 5 years in prison (plus 2 years suspended) for his derivatives trading errors at Société Générale, despite the fact that the gains were not his personally to realize. [France]
  • A death sentence (that was successful only on the second electrocution attempt) for the apparently falsely accused 18-year-old Willie Francis (see my friend, Gilbert King’s book, The Execution of Willie Francis).  [USA]  Of course, there are many more such cases around the world – see Wikipedia’s entry for wrongful executions.
  • An elaborate 11-year stalemate in Guantánamo for the 5 masterminds of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  Only recently, the Pentagon has declared that the charges “could carry the death penalty.”  [USA]
  • In the UK, this week, an armed robber, Yohan Clarke, 33, was jailed for 22 years for shooting, but not killing, someone in the stomach.  Source: Evening Standard.  [UK]
  • And now, there is a pending punishment for Anders Breivik in Norway, for killing 77 people in two separate attacks: 21 years in prison with possible five-year extensions for as long as he is considered a danger to society.  21 years, really? That is, basically, 4 months per victim.  Source: Telegraph [Norway]
Eddie Izzard Executive Transvestite, The Myndset Brand Strategy

Dressed To Kill

Of course, as Izzard points out, there was house arrest for Pol Pot (aged 72), responsible for 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia, during a 3-year stint.

What is a life worth?  What is life imprisonment, if it is not until the end of your life?

I am beginning to doubt that their system is any less crazy than any Western so-called civilized system?  Who has it right?

It is all rather confusing, if not demoralizing, when you start to see such discrepancies in terms of punishment.  You almost think there must be some form of arbitrage going on among criminal circles.  Better to kill in certain countries and not get caught doing financial misdeeds in others.  What are your thoughts?  Please drop in your opinion!

*The list’s top 10 is rounded out by Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria and Somalia — not very good company, eh?

Satellite picture of the Koreas: darkness at night

I captured this image via a NBC midcoast. It’s a rather stunning shot. A satellite photo of northeast Asia at night. There is a startling blackout in North Korea. I cannot vouch for the timing of the shot, but I assume it is still the case in North Korea. Not even the capital Pyongyang (on the western border of North Korea) is lit.

Korea by night from satellite, from The Myndset

Korea by night from satellite, via MSNBC

I wonder: do they operate by candlelight?

Guam – A family visit and things to do on Guam island

Pacific War Museum in GuamWe visited Guam to celebrate this past Christmas with my sister and her family, along with my mother who flew in all the way from Florida. Notwithstanding the jetlag and length of the journey (it felt like half way around the world, Guam to Paris is 13,316 kilometres or 8,274 miles)*, we had a lovely visit to Guam, albeit I would say that it is difficult to justify as regular tourists since we enjoy neither hiking nor scuba diving. The other alternative is to go there on your honeymoon as witnessed by the large number of romantic Japanese couples.

On the tourism front, we hit the newly minted Pacific War Museum (near the US Navy Hospital), complete with artefacts from the Japanese soldiers who had lived in isolation in the forests continuing to believe that the war had not ended; a most resourceful survivor, Major Shoichi Yokoi, only surrendered in 1972, while a couple of stragglers held out until 1962. And if the subject of Japanese holdouts interests you, I found this chronology of other situations rather fascinating (if certainly not complete and unsure of all the facts). More here about the longest holdout, Hiroo Onoda, who surrendered in 1974 in the Philippines. We did some snorkelling in shallow waters off the Guam Hilton Hotel — which is a very good Guamanian address — and saw scores of tropical fish. There was enough to explore to get our backs scorched by the sun in short order. The ordering out of food at the local “gourmet” Indian restaurant gave us a good insight into Guamanian service and sense of ‘island’ time. After placing an order by phone, we arrived ‘as requested’ 30 minutes later, at which point, we were informed that our order would only be ready in another 15 minutes. We waited at the bar. It was 10 minutes before we realized that the ordered drinks would not be coming. Going to pay, we waited a further ten minutes before seeing that a box to the side was sitting placidly, cooling off. We finally reappeared at home with the family, aside from being well past hungry, wondering what happened to us. Dinner at Firefly, 138 Martyr Street in Agana (+1 671-688-4145), hosted by the welcoming Randy Reyes, was a good address. However, don’t forget to come with extra jumpers for greater comfort (massive air conditioning).

Got in some cracking tennis with some members of the Guam national team (thanks to Lisa Miller for setting that up) including the #1 ranked Justin Dugan, Bill and Wendell.

Nuclear Submarine Docked in GuamOur highlight “tourist” activity was getting a first class visit of the USS Frank Cable, a submarine tender, courtesy of LCDR Dr. Rod Hagerman, the senior medical officer on the ship. Parked off its stern were two submarines (photo), while a third sub was across the inlet. The tour from the Docs (not at the docks) was very memorable for all the family. And, while we were some seven decks up, we witnessed some tuna fishing, whereby for some 3-4 minutes, a tuna hunted a smaller (2 foot) fish, zipping in and out of the water, at the ship’s water line. Better than any waterpark attraction.

* The earth’s circumference is 40,075.02 KM or 24,901.5 miles at the Equator, so to be fair, we travelled just 1/3 of the world’s circumference.

Visit to Banaue via Cabanatuan in the Philippines‏

Map of Luzon, Philippines
Having boarded a 6 a.m. flight in Guam, we arrived 3 1/2 hours later in Manila at 7:30 a.m., and headed straight north by car toward Banaue, to see the beautiful Ifugao rice terraces (acclaimed UNESCO historical site since 1995). The drive, as it turned out, was 10 hours long on the nose, if a little long in the teeth. En route, we visited the city of Cabanatuan, site of several POW camps in WWII, including Cabanatuan Prison Camp #2 in which my grandfather was imprisoned for a little over 2 years (1942-1944). Nothing is left of the camp sites which were actually located 5 miles east of Cabanatuan at Pangatian, so we pressed on. A roadside lunch of fish and chicken tamarind tided us over. The drive was diverting for the perpetual overtaking of overloaded jeepneys, motorcycles and 10-to-a-tricycles, zigzagging between uniformly sized dogs, thin chickens, pedestrians and kids all ages able to walk. It was not uncommon to find young kids (6-7 years old) carrying infants on their backs. Since all the homes (and businesses) line the road, the road was the children’s principal, if perilous, playground. Other sites included the drying of rice in one of the lanes (to make the two-way road a single lane), cows, carabao (local buffalo), goats and, of course, oncoming traffic.

We arrived at Banaue at 6 p.m. and, installed ourselves at the government-run Banaue Hotel, ate at the hotel restaurant which was a mistake. The buffet of chicken wings, fish sticks and spring rolls was classified as hot, but the only true part of H0T was the o as in zero, which is shared with C0LD. The canned fruit salad rounded off the meal. Next, we scurried off to reserve our seats for the hotel’s Cultural Show, a demonstration of the local dress, music and dances. The 40-minute show was performed by mostly Elders (as pictured below). Despite one dynamic younger male dancer, the tinny drum and rustic flute (seemingly improvised) music chased us out. A suggestion might have been to present a younger, more attractive set of dancers.

Banaue Ifugao Elders (Luzon, Philippines)
Another worthy side note for the Banaue Hotel were the “House Rules” announced in the room’s pamphlet. Neither visitors nor gambling are allowed in the rooms. Likewise there was a prohibition of cooking, ironing or hanging of wet clothes. Favourite rule: “Please inquire/arrange with Front Office for hotel items you may want for souvenir.” On the good news, the hotel had comfortable beds. However, on balance, it reminded us of communist style hotels. Zero charm, dour (if low consumption) lighting and minimal amenities.

Banaue Map, Luzon Philippines
The following morning, awoken by an array of roosters at the crack of dawn, we were met by the appropriately named Dawna, daughter of the notable Hangdaan family in Banga-an village (3300ft ASL), an hour’s drive from Banaue (SPOT 8 in the map above). The drive was scenic, if bumpy. The road is under improvement; the widening and paving project is as yet 1/8th complete after eight years. That would place termination around 2064. The surrounding rainforest was filled with small waterfalls, lush with greenery, if denuded of any wild animals. The last of the monkeys apparently disappeared some ten years ago.

Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
While we had been systematically warned of the “freezing” conditions at Banaue — it being 3000+ft above sea level — we were more than amply prepared for the 14•C temperatures. The lack of a sunny day did little for the photography of the rice terraces. However, the sun’s appearance when it appeared was always welcome in the mountains (see below this shot at dawn).

Banaue Mountains, Luzon Philippines

Once at Banga-an, we were challenged to a 1000-step descent to the lower village, in the midst of a vast array of rice paddies. We were welcomed with heart-warming generosity by mother of nine, Mrs Hangdaan, married at 14-years-old to her husband, a year older. We ate native rice and chicken prepared in their traditional nipa hut. We also were served a bottle of native rice wine and were caringly given a bottle of the juice to take back with us. The kids were adorned with prince and princess regalia to cap off a memorable visit. On the way back up to the main road, we witnessed the celebratory, if noisy, slaughter of a large pig for a one-week-old baby girl. The entire village was on hand to observe and feast — an event that lasted the better part of the day.
r />After a return drive through the same winding pass, we also hit the famed Viewpoint (SPOT 6 on the map above, 4000ft ASL), obscured in part by an afternoon fog. Our evening activity was dinner at Las Vegas (+63 (0)918-4409932), with a gracious and energetic host, Leopoldo Bustamante, better than average food and a miked stage for musically inclined guests. Unabashed, the Dials took to the spotlight like dogs to the doghouse. Oscar played his repertoire of tunes on the guitar and Alexandra accompanied me on a robust version of “Champs Elysées.”
We returned to the Banaue Hotel to find it swarming with police and military personnel. The hubbub was to prepare the surprise visit the following day of President Macapagal-Arroyo. The last time a President had come to Banaue was 2005. For her arrival, we benefitted from a tight security and tidied lobby. Since we were busy for our lunch, we declined the invitation and headed off to our next destination: Bolinao off Lingayen Bay. As it turned out, meanwhile, the President cancelled her trip — perhaps offended by our early departure.

Review of Manila Hotel Philippines — December 2008

Manila Hotel, Philippines
A historical landmark built in 1912, the 5***** Manila Hotel is a “venue for big events and grand aspirations” as is emblazoned all over the place, including in each room over the television. As for our two nights, just before Christmas, it was not exactly a grand experience.

Unfortunately for us, we came while the hotel was under renovation which meant that the Ilang-Ilang cafeteria was more like the Bang-Bang cafeteria, as we ate amid a chorus of hammering. To boot, the food was absolutely mediocre at Bang-Bang. The other downside to the renovations was that there was no swimming pool or tennis court. Instead, we were given a voucher allowing us to go to the Pan Pacific Hotel‘s pool (5-10 minutes away).

The hotel’s large reception hall featured live music with one of the squeakiest, whiniest violins, trundling out Vienna waltzes and Christmas carols. There was also a surprising gingerbread house, large enough to host kids and made entirely of real ginger bread. Outside, Santa Claus was a regular feature.

On the entertaining side, we were witness to a steady stream of weddings (surely because we stayed Saturday and Sunday), proof enough that the hotel has its standing in the Manila community. That said, we seemed to be in Manila in prime wedding time, right before Christmas (December and June are the two high seasons for weddings). Over the same weekend, there was an ally-ally-in free wedding whereby some 270 couples were married ensemble for free as a gracious gesture by the City. And each time we went to visit a church, whether it was the Manila Cathedral or St Augustin Church, weddings were in full swing, limiting the scope of our churchly visit.

Overall, the Manila Hotel was decidedly average, even if not 5 star pricing. The final straw was that our room featured cockroaches which rendered our bill less onerous. All said, the Manila Hotel may be a landmark, but it is clearly living on its colonial laurels. Hopefully, the renovations will bring it up a notch or five.

Airline Advertisements – Who Can Afford to Experience Luxury Service?

Airline Ads — the good, the bad and the luxury

In these trying economic times, one of the industries that will inevitably be hit hard (again), will be the airline industry. Whether for personal or business travel, there is likely to be a good amount of seat-belt tightening. Some wise folk would say that NOW is a good time for the companies [that can afford it], to invest in attracting new business. In this vein, I took a look at some of the print advertising messages by airline companies around the world. While I certainly can’t say that I did a definitive and comprehensive search of all the ad creatives, I did find that there were certain patterns. When I take the NORTH AMERICAN companies, for example, it seems to me that the companies are communicating less about the experience in the plane and more about the “dream” of travel and the number of destinations serviced. In the creatives here (which I believe may be a bit dated) American Airlines (left) puts forward that it flies six times a day from NYC to London “via cloud nine.” A second American Airlines ad (right) presents the benefits of staring out the window. Implicitly, they are asking you not to look at the quality of service inside the plane, no?

More current, American’s billboard ad above is another curious statement. What are they selling? They are proposing planes that know how to land in water? Not going to rock my boat, if you see what I mean. The creative concept here is to show that you can have wifi internet access in flight. Dubious item to search if you are trying to encourage people to fly. To the right, you see Delta pushing its inflight entertainment (curiously promoting playing its Texas Hold’em game against fellow passengers). I would be remiss not to include Southwest, a true lovemark, which is proud of its advertising (historical creatives posted on its own site). But, even Southwest, in this output (left), is discussing the technology equipment (and while we haven’t heard the last about inflight telephone conversations), we are again not truly onboard.
And then Air Canada (left), is encouraging pedestrians to consider flying with its “People Working Above” humour. Again, not much content in the way of in-cabin service. Had they picked snow-packed scenery (there is a BIT) and miserably cold people, then the concept might have been to incite people to fly away to warmer climates? Bottom line, the North American companies seemed to be more prone to communicate about the concept of flying, rather than the experience itself. 
And as a sign off on the North American situation, the next step is to focus on on-board advertising to its passengers…as a way to gain extra revenue (see here in a USA Today article earlier this month).

EUROPEAN COMPANIES – THE “JE NE SAIS QUOI…”

After the North American ads, I took a look at the European companies. Mainland companies were not as “out of the cabin” as the American companies. Air France‘s creative (left) has been running for quite a while. It’s a nice image, but it leaves me wondering about the reality in the cabin. And their competition up north, Brussels Airlines (formerly Sabena), had decidedly the same creative air (below). Something about water as being part of the flying experience? The need to sit on a wooden board? I, for one, am absolutely horrible at sitting on the ground. Interestingly, both ad creatives use women.

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England‘s two primary airlines, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, have somewhat different approaches. Virgin allows for cheeky claims as well as innovative service concepts. On the left, you have an ad (9 inches) targetted presumably toward the female customer yet again. On the right, Virgin is going at the pre-flight experience with the offer of the limousine and a fast track check-in into the Virgin lounge. “Fastly Superior” and a cut above in terms of service proposition. Whether it is 9 inches of pleasure or the limo-to-lounge service, there is little humanity in this offer.

Moving to Virgin’s compeition, British Airlines is communicating in this creative on the onboard experience. Again, the focus is on the “mechanical” or physical benefits on board. With a cute creative (using the windows as eyes), the ad speaks to the ability to get a real night’s sleep in the plane (all good when you are flying overnight or on very long haul flights). Of course, in this creative by BA, you have to understand that you did not fly BA in your last flight. I have snuck in an Aeroflot creative just to say that they are more in the North American category…not much to sell onboard, unless you like the idea of doing wheelies and 360s. European companies are in for tough times, just as much as in the US, with lots of short flights, expensive personnel and intense competition (and regulation). Recently, European legislators have decided to go after the European companies for improper pricing advertising. Read here for the June 2008 article from the BBC.

ASIAN AIRLINE CLASS
Finally, moving to Asia. There are many examples that reinforce the notion that the battle is actually for in-cabin comfort and service. Here, we see much more of the human element. For example, Cathay Pacific (below) is not afraid to personalize the experience.

An Air India execution (below), in broad daylight, with the same romantic couple concept.

And the king of inflight, luxurious and personalized service, Singapore Airlines, in a veritable world of its own… Here’s the suite landing execution:

So, in summary, the Good (European) tend to be in the imaginary. The Bad (North American) largely ignore the onboard travails. And the Luxury (Asian) are vying for top dibs in terms of the personal and personalized onboard experience. In these difficult economic times, you have to wonder which airline companies are going to survive. Aside from ensuring that the fleet is uptodate and safe, are companies going to be cutting back on the little luxuries or, to the contrary, investing in the details?

[And then, if you are interested, there are the airline company slogans. I found this site (textart) from Russia, that regroups all the slogans for a host of industries. Here, Airline Industry Slogans it is just for the airline industry. A useful resource for us marketeers (although I can't vouch for how up to date it is)]
If you enjoyed this article or take issue, do let me know!