Travel

New Plan, Same Destination

“A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it’ll…it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp, what’s the use of knowing True North?”            

Abraham Lincoln Movie

After an high cadence evening exploring canals and bridges in Venice, I returned to the Venezia Santa Lucia train station for the homeward portion of my ticket to Castelfranco, the town from which I had launched a late afternoon expedition.  I walked to the track assigned on the destination board.  No train appeared.  I rechecked the departure listings and cross-referenced a paper schedule.  No worries, another train was slated to depart an hour later if I missed this one.  I began to feel uneasy.  The only trains in the station were clearly equipped for overnight transit and local departures seemed absent from the side tracks.  I triple confirmed the train scheduled but upon this examination I decoded my error, I had been reading the arrivals information.  The last train of the night destine for the Veneto left an hour ago.  I regrouped.  Seeing buses queued up at the transportation center I inquired about bus transit to Castelfranco.  No buses departed for the town.  My next available option was to inquiry at a local hotel but without my passport I was uneasy that a hotel would provide a room without appropriate documents (a prerequisite in Italy).  The last reasonable option (outside of swimming) was to inquire about a taxi.  None were immediately found at the taxi line however one eventually appeared.  The driver and I spoke and the initial estimate was far higher than I desired but without traffic there would be no delay and possible efficiencies to gain.  I determined this choice was most certain to deliver me to my hotel.  So we crossed the causeway back onto the mainland and arrived at the hotel around midnight.  More euros invested than anticipated but the afternoon had the hallmarks of adventure.  I reached my intended destination but taken a deviation from the anticipated route.  

Affixing our sights on a destination sets the compass.  Allowing flexibility to select a route is the art of navigating when the path is not certain and the destination is known but no longer visible.

What Travel Taught Me About Strategic Planning

Travelled to a city or place that has more ‘must see venues’ than times allows you to visit?  Then you have experienced strategic planning.  Want to visit the leading cultural sites in your desired location then research the top rated museums.  Desire a taste of the nation, work the restaurant guides and food blogs.  A thrill seeking bent will keep one on the scent of wild rides and adrenaline drops.  Anytime there is more opportunity than our bandwidth can absorb, we plan.  We select the ‘must visit’ locals and start reversen engineering our schedule to accomodate our choices.  We chart our days, perhaps leaving gaps for serendipity and getting lost but with focus on the central goal of each day.

Strategic planning is the opportunity to select which trips you wish to take over a fixed time.  Each time you get closer to departing on an upcoming adventure you assemble the details, such as airline tickets, hotel reservations, museum passes.  This is equivalent to the annual operating plan of an organization.  You engage experts like travel agent, guide, or the chat forums for advise, recommendations, and reassurances.

We establish travel strategy screens to help assess opportunities that present themselves in real-time.  If you are a lover of trains and the Glacier Express happens to run while you are in Switzerland, I imagine you might adjust your trip around its itinerary.

The big question is where do you want to go in the next ten or twenty years?  Which continents, countries, cities, galaxies?  Could select one or two that rise to the top of your priority list?  Are there three steps you could take today to start making a trip a reality?  What do you value most when you travel and would be willing to adjust your plans to accomodate?

The answers to the above questions is the basis of all strategic, operational, and strategy screen planning.  We do it all the time.  It does not need to be complicated and labored.  If it is not worth the rewards of exploration, why start?

Connecting

You have just landed in a city that you have never visited.  It is late at night and your senses are overloaded as you try to decode the labyrinth of the airport and find transportation to your final destination for the evening.  Suddenly, a person intersected your meandering path.  “Great game Saturday, wasn’t it'” they state.  You mind races back to the article you read on the plane about the latest travel scams, you tense.  Then the stranger points at the logo on your shirt.  You look down and absorb the fact that your hometown’s college logo is embroidered on your shirt pocket.  The stranger reveals a tattoo on his arm with the same symbol.  You relax and enter into a quick back and forth about the successes of the college football team.  Before long, you have received directions and a few insider tips on getting to your hotel.

Boise State University

What can we learn about building a tribe from college football.  Universities do it as publicly and as well as anyone else.  They gather their members every weekend in the fall to cheer on the team.  The community is full of merchants that sell the tribe’s colors and crest.  Members can connect with each other in-person and online via official and unofficial forums.  Fans plan events the rest of the year to connect outside of game day.  And if you wear the school’s logo around the world, it is assured that you will run into like minded individuals and also somebody who reminds you why failure and doom are certain to befall your warriors during the season. 

Try it someday.  Travel with a favorite college teams logo and count the interactions.

Home

Alhambra

Three months in Spain and now suddenly I find myself home in Idaho, a state most citizen’s in Europe have never heard of and is best described as being between Seattle and Salt Lake City (or kind of near Las Vegas) to those who inquire.  The transition come with the usual challenges like waking too early in the morning, greeting in the wrong language, or attempting to complete a transaction with Euros.

What was most remarkable was the shift of priorities during these three months.  Living from one suitcase each, we learned that our wardrobe did not define us.  A television with no English speaking channels provided a model of another way and the cable subscription at home is being jettisoned.  Shopping for meals was a daily ritual given the proximity of local farmers markets and the desire to enjoy fresh bread from one of the neighborhood bakeries.  Walking, more walking, and some more walking was a part of most days interrupted only by a trip on the metro or bus to get where we were headed.  

What struck me most was the chance to revisit a museum or historic site and come to understand it a little more each time given the context of other places visited in the interim.  Suddenly the emotional connection to one painting was enhanced because we had seen the sketch studies at another gallery.  Then a trip to the town where the artist lived added context.  Walking through a photography exhibit of the Spanish Civil War set the scene for the world events influencing the painter’s perspective.  And seeing the architecture that dominated the city offered a sense of place.  We would frequently walk past the Placa del Rei in Barcelona.  The very courtyard that Christopher Columbus returned to Spain with his cargo of Native Americans to present to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. The gold that he unloaded as part of his bounty would ultimately adorn a cathedral in Toledo, Spain.  We were seven thousand miles away from our home and yet its history was so closely tied to events that took place just blocks from our apartment.  Perhaps the understanding of how interconnected the world has been and continues to be was made palpable.  The sense of adding to our understanding was the joy of adventuring out each day.  The ability to sit for an moment and absorb the presence of a place was a gift.  Above all, the importance of daily discovery illuminated our journey.

Planes vs. Trains

When I attended a school in New Hampshire and wanted to get back to visit my parents in New York there was no doubt that you took the shuttle between Boston’s Logan Airport and New York LaGuardia. The flights ran every hour and there was even a guarantee that they would roll-out another plane if the first one left completely full. The service was quick, the price was inexpensive and it felt as if you ascend to a cruise altitude and then immediately descend and land. Nothing compared to the speed and the ability to customize schedules. Reservations were not required, just good timing.

I read today in a New York Times article that USAir is disbanding its stationed shuttle pilots and ground personnel at both LGA and BOS. The new plan is to fly regional air jets that connect from other cities in place of the planes (larger Airbus planes) that simply ferried passengers between three cities (Washington, DC was the other option). Now the plane leaving Philadelphia to New York will need to be on-time in order to board as the equivalent of the “shuttle” flight to Boston. The prices has raised to beyond reasonable. In reality this has become just another flight with service a little more frequently as the heavily traveled New York to Chicago route.

By diluting the competitive advantage of owning the corridor now new forms of transportation have benefited. The Amtral Acela offers a variety of levels of service and in three hours and thirty minutes can have you from downtown New York to the Back Bay of Boston. I do not pretend to understand the airline industry but it appears that one airline’s demise is not really another airlines opportunity. Instead passengers are turning to other forms of transportation. In Washington, DC this summer I saw buses advertising $9 fares between the nation’s capitol and the Big Apple. When you start to calculate the cost and time associated with a tax to the airport, TSA screening, the less stripped-down flying experience, and then reversing the arrival scenario the move to trains and buses makes sense. Amtrak’s TV spot spends as much time knocking flying as it does promoting its product.

I would call this a sea change, a paradigm shift or at least an opportunity. What may take place in your sector that could make you wildly relevant or suddenly insignificant? Are you creating a future that includes your enterprise as a leader?

Fear Announcements


Flying home on United Airlines from Denver yesterday afternoon and the gate agent made the following announcement: “The captain wants to weather warn you that due to severe thunderstorms this flight may be diverted to Idaho Falls, Idaho or Spokane, Washington (both of which are a four hour drive or more from Boise, Idaho). The announcement complete the agent asked for Zone 1 to begin boarding. The hesitation to board was obvious. Should I get on? What are the chances of the plane diverting? Is the Boise airport open right now? Have planes been landing during the day? What happens to me if the airline deplanes me in a town so far away from my destination?

Passengers started asking questions and got no answers. Then the great mobile phone game began. Passengers called anyone who might be effected by a major shift to their itinerary. I overhear calls where people were forecasting not being able to arrive in Boise until noon the following day. I called my wife and she quickly emailed me the following photo from her phone

A quick check of Flightaware.com and I saw that the airport was seeing normal departure and arrival activity. My potential panic subsided with this information. I tried to share my ‘local’ knowledge of the situation but those around me continued to make a flurry of calls and emails before we departed.

From the moment the plane door closed until we arrived in Boise there was not a single announcement about our intended plan. The pilot and co-pilot or flight attendant never acknowledged the weather warning or calmed the frenzy by announcing that we were planning to fly direct to Boise. People discussed the potential diversion and their plans until it became evident that we were descending through the storm to the airport.

This was a great reminder that you need to remain cognisant of your message. You may have clarity about your strategy internally but have you fully communicated it to your customers and constituents? Do your customers think you are on a diversion when you are actually planning to proceed as planned? A lot of energy is used and mistrust developed when you are not transparent in these situations.