Virgin America I adore you, but sometimes you disappoint

Those that know me can attest to how strongly I vouch for Virgin America (@virginamerica) flights. I frequently go out of my way to ensure I fly Virgin America. Last Thursday’s flight, was somewhat of a disappointment compared to their normal excellent service.

I opted to upgrade to Main Cabin Select which is a bit pricey considering what you get but sometimes worth the upgrade fee. For those who haven’t flow Main Cabin Select you receive much more leg room, access to all their on-demand videos ($8.00 each), all the food, drink, alcohol you can possibly consume, priority boarding, and priority security access (my personal favorite).

I never buy my Main Cabin Select seat outright; I wait until I check-in to see how many of the seats are available. If I can snag an aisle seat and the middle seat is empty I’ll upgrade right before my flight. I think upgrades the day of tend to be a little bit cheaper. I usually pay $110 for my upgrade, but I can check my bag w/o any additional fees ($25 value) so my upgrade fee ends up being $85.

This flight experience left something to be desired. I’m sure my sub-par Virgin America experience would have beat any other airline I could have taken.

Items of concern

  • Hair found in sink
  • Consoles in row froze multiple times
  • Safety video was not played – old school demonstration, delayed departure time
  • Flight crew seemed disoriented and disorganized prior to take off
  • Excessive amount of pre-boarding for those who obviously did not need the extra time. As a Main Cabin Select passenger there were approximately 20 people on the plane when I boarded. One of the main reasons I upgrade is to be able to walk right to my seat. Today, I was 5 back waiting in the walkway to board the plane
  • Flight Crew Captain asked all passengers to refrain from using Google Maps on Red due to excessive unit freezing

Saving grace

  • Google’s free wifi made the flight more bearable
  • Luckily no one was in the middle seat (I normally take aisle)
  • That I upgraded to Main Cabin select (not really your saving grace as I paid a premium upgrade fee)
  • Amazing Red interactive environment (when it wasn’t frozen)
  • Satellite television at every seat
  • AC Power Plugs at every seat for your laptop, iPod and anything else you need power for

Things that added to my annoyance but out of their control

  • Crying babies
  • Turbulent flight
  • Consider offering a voucher for Main Cabin Select and First Class passengers for GoGo In-flight wifi.

I will admit that I am the one that decided to travel during Thanksgiving. Being away from family for most of Thanksgiving Day is bad enough. I don’t think I was asking much, I was just hoping for the normal Virgin America experience. Hopefully my return flight will fare better.


My first date with TSA

For the last few weeks I’ve been debating what I would do when I arrived at security. I’ll admit that I’m not a hard-core civil liberties activist and we need to be proactive to keep our skies safe. The discussions, blog posts, horror stories, news articles, and tweets about the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) procedures left me apprehensive.

There is something about the whole-body imaging that doesn’t sit right with me. Keep in mind TSA is using two types of whole-body imagine technology, Millimeter Wave and Backscatter technology. The latest uproar has been around Backscatter technology which uses “low intensity” radiation to create a detailed outline of your body. I prefer to limit my radiation exposure and am not yet to be sold on the “safe levels” the new whole-body imaging machines produce. It’s essentially a digital strip search and I feel there has to be a better way to ensure security.

On the other hand, I recognize that security procedures are always changing and in someone’s mind the TSA is doing what they can to keep everyone safe. Personally, I feel like every time TSA installs a new security procedure, it’s a reactive event. Maybe we just don’t hear about the security procedures that prevent incidents before they happen.

I arrived at the airport about 3 hours before my flight. The combination of Thanksgiving day, new security procedures, and whoknows what else I didn’t want to take a risk getting stuck in security. With that in mind, I upgraded my flight class, which allowed me to go through the premium security line (it’s that other entrance that’s always empty and puts you at the front of the line). It’s just a shame that there were only about a dozen people in line for security when I showed up. Minor failure on my part.

Now I’m a pragmatist, if I was running behind and thought I would miss my flight I likely would have given in to whole-body imaging. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but I wanted to experience the hype about the new pat-down procedures. I had plenty of time to catch my flight, there was only one person in front of me that opted out. I told the TSA agent of my desire to opt out. I sense a little annoyance on his part as he tried to quickly describe what would happen in a distasteful way to persuade me to change my mind.

I told him I understood and he asked me to stand to the side. Over his radio he reported a male-opt out and requested an additional TSA agent for the pat down. The TSA agent came promptly (I waited about 2 mins) and I was asked to check my pockets one last time and step through the metal detector. He asked me to identify my items and repeatedly told me not to touch anything.

I sat down and as he was putting on the gloves he asked if I had this procedure before and then explained exactly what he would be doing. I told him I understood and stood up and faced the wall with my arms out. I’ll admit, I didn’t really care about the pat down; I’ve been gone through pat-downs before. Yes, this was the “enhanced pat-down” that was creating lots of controversy so I wanted to see what the “enhanced” part entailed.

So what did he do?

  • Ran hands up and down my legs and checked my inner thighs
  • Checked my inner belt line very thoroughly
  • Ran his hands over my back, chest, and stomach area
  • Very thoroughly checked my collar
  • Repeatedly told me not to touch anything
  • Aggressively told me not to touch anything when someone tried to hand me my phone that fell onto the conveyor belt (Side note: the other passenger who found my found was yelling at me like it was my fault. To which I wanted to say “Don’t look at me, the TSA agent grabbed my stuff from the conveyor belt”)
  • Overall, he acted very professionally about the pat down

What didn’t he do?

  • He didn’t grope me in the way a doctor would
  • He didn’t belittle me
  • He didn’t make any remarks or distasteful comments
  • He didn’t make me feel like he was doing anything inappropriate

What did I think?
There were brief instances in which I felt apprehensive about the process but I never felt violated or treated less than humanely. I’m sure it’s wasn’t the highlight of his day either. I’ve read about the stories of other passengers feeling violated; the father who had to listen to the TSA agents making suggestive comments about his daughter, the passenger who had his urine bag expelled on himself, the woman who had her breasts groped and then bra snapped, and the list goes on. Obviously, these are valid complaints and I think these agents should be held dealt with accordingly.

My personal experience was not as intrusive or traumatic. My belief is that it largely depends on the TSA agent performing the enhanced pat down. I had the good fortune of having my enhanced pat-down performed by a very quiet yet professional TSA agent who at no point made me feel like I had done something wrong or that he was doing anything but his job.

What’s next?
I have three more “dates” with TSA before the end of the year. It will be situation dependent, but if it’s not going to cause me to miss my flight (since I refuse to fly anything but @virginamerica my options for being re-booked are limited to slim) then I’ll consider going through the enhanced pat-down. I’ll be describing each of my “dates” with TSA in future posts.

Addendum: Before beginning the enhanced pat-down I was required to pass through a metal detector.

How about a better new year’s resolution?

The last two weeks we’ve all been bombarded with New Year’s goals. They’re all over the place with status updates, tweets, Twitter polls, blog postings, and news articles. Now I’ve never been a hardcore New Year’s goal setter, I always have a few in mind and by the end of the week of the first week in January I’ve probably forgotten them and by the 3rd week I’ve likely given up on them completely.

Does this sound familiar?

I wanted to know if it was just I. Do I lack the simple self-discpline to stick with my goals? According to 2008 research study by Stephen Shapiro and the Opinion Research Corporation in Princeton, NJ:

Number of people that make New Year’s resolutions/goals
• 45% of Americans usually set New Year’s Resolutions
• 17% infrequently set resolutions
• 38% absolutely never set resolutions

Success rates
• 8% of people are always successful in achieving their resolutions
• 19% achieve their resolutions every other year.
• 49% have infrequent success
• 24% (one in four people) NEVER succeed and have failed on every resolution every year

Types of resolutions set
• 34% set resolutions related to money
• 38% set resolutions related to weight
• 47% set resolutions related to self-improvement or education
• 31% set resolutions related to relationships

The younger you are, the more likely you are to succeed
• 39% of those in their twenties achieve their resolutions every year or every other year
• Less than 15% of those over 50 achieve their resolutions every year or every other year

So what’s the problem? Why do people continually set new goals when they know they only have a 1 in 4 chance succeeding? Is it a lack of commitment? Lack of self-confidence? Lack of planning? Lack of management? Lack of Energy? Lack of support?

Or is it too many goals? Too many obstacles? Too much to do in a day? Too many “I’ll get to it tomorrow”?

Maybe some of these are the reasons, maybe all of them are. I believe most New Year’s resolutions/goals lack a proper plan and process achieve them. If people are serious about achieving a goal they need to be serious in the time they spend to achieve it. This begins with the proper road map and a plan.

Sidenote: If I have to hear the term S.M.A.R.T goal one more time I’m going to lose it. Yes the acronym works because I remember it so I’ll give credit to George, Arthur and James. But talk about beating a dead horse. . . and then kicking it again once it’s on the ground.

Goals are great, but goals aren’t what you do to accomplish them. To “accomplish” a goal you need to a process to create the a successfull outcome. The process I use in my everyday life is ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation). It’s a simple process used by instructional designers and workplace performance practitioners (whose purpose is to help make the workplace more effective – surely it can work for new year’s goals too).

The first step is to clarify the goal, establish the objectives (these are the action items that complete your goal). Some questions to ask yourself:

• What is your expected outcome?
• What obstacles might you face(self, external, environmental)?
• What have you done in the past? Did it work? Why or whynot?
• What methods/ways can you achieve your goal?
• What is the deadline for completion?

The second step is designing your plan. This should be a very specific plan with dates, ranges, times, calories, time required. If you can’t give your plan to someone else to duplicate with the same results then it’s not detailed enough. This document describes the structure and strategies you will use.

• Document your strategy
• Design your activities (a blended approach is significantly more effective)
• How will you evaluate your success? Will there be periodic updates/check-ins?

The third step is where you create and assemble all the materials/tools/parts needed that were detailed in the design phase. Tools are purchased. Memberships are purchased. Vacation time and dates are requested. Research into programs is conducted. You don’t start your actual goals yet. Think of a hamster hoarding food in its cheeks getting ready to eat during winter.

The fourth step is the fun part and where you’ll spend most of your time. This is when you follow the plan you made in step two. Take the materials/tools/parts you got together in step three and use your design plan to start achieving your goal. Essentially – put your plan into action!

The fifth step is determining how you did. Notice I didn’t say final step because you should be constantly evaluating your progress. After you do your analysis you’ll ask yourself if you thought of everything. After you design your plan you’ll ask yourself if this is something you can really do? After development and gathering your tools you’ll ask if you got everything you needed. The most evaluating will occur during your implementation. There should be lots of evaluating – perhaps on a daily schedule? Weekly? Monthly? Don’t wait until your deadline to see how you are doing.

Creative ways to get creative ideas

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at your desk, banging your head against the keyboard praying or a creative thought to fall out. Whether you work in marketing, writing, publishing, design, sales, etc you need to come up with an interesting solution to any problem you’re solving. The more creative you are the better the solution.

So what is creativity? A “define: creativity” google search tells us the following:
• The ability to create
• Creativity is a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts.
• Creativity is a monthly magazine covering all things creative in advertising and design. The magazine, launched in 1986, provides a showcase of the best ideas across all areas of consumer culture, an exploration of the talent and techniques behind the work and insight on the people and the …
• Creative – promoting construction or creation; “creative work”
• Creatively – in a creative manner; “she solved the problem creatively”
• Creative – “Creative” is a song written by Peter Gordeno, Chris Porter and Howard New. Leon said in episode 21 of his Bebo Leon’s Life series broadcast on …
• Using imagination rather than imitating something else. Generation of ideas, images and/or solutions.
• The process of developing new, uncommon, or unique ideas. The federal definition of giftedness identifies creativity as a specific component of giftedness.
• Refers to the act of generating new and useful ideas, or of re-evaluating or combining old ideas, so as to develop new and useful perspectives in order to satisfy a need. …
• Generates and/or recognises how best practice and imaginative ideas can be applied to different situations.
• The production of previously non-existent information. All new items of information are based on preceding ones, and they are “new” …
• The degree of innovation and dynamism (bounded rationality).
• The experience of thinking, reacting, and working in an imaginative and idiosyncratic way which is characterized by a high degree of innovation …
• The ability to produce something new, to generate unique approaches and solutions to issues or problems or opportunities.

All are definitions of creativity, but I personally think that definitions that use the word to describe itself are lazy, stupid, and generally not very useful. It appears that there isn’t one set definition of creativity – yet it’s something that all people are looking for, want, need, and have the hardest time being. Simply put from these definitions, creativity is the process of generating new and unique ideas, concepts, thoughts, and perceptions to solve an problem/opportunity. This is the keyword, you have to realize each situation as an opportunity to be creative, not a problem that requires creative thinking. That sounds great you way, but you’re still left banging your head against the keyboard wondering how to be creative.

The first thing you have to realize is that you don’t have to be creative – you already are!

It’s not about whether you are creative or not, since we already know everyone is creative the value is what you do, what can you put on the table.

When you’re looking for creative ways to generate creativity you’re really just looking for inspiration. This inspiration needs to be based on knowledge already possessed, inspiration based on someone else’s perspective – it does you no good.
Association. Start with a big white board, or large pieces of butcher paper and just write words. Put your main word/product/idea in the center and just write everything that you think of. It should look like a big web of words that may or may not help immediately but the goal is to just get it out there.

Ask searching questions
Ask opening ended questions. Why questions help discover the problems, meanings, understanding. How questions discover alternatives, differences, improvements.

Brainstorm in teams
You don’t know all the answers, and no one else does either. When you bring in different people with all sorts of backgrounds, job roles, area of expertise, or even better lack of expertise you start seeing opportunities from all kinds of perspectives. Keep in mind that bringing in the head of every department may result in the type of diversity required for a truly creative brainstorming sessions. They play by the rules too much – ask the interns, ask the receptionist, ask the new workers, and compliment them with the veterns. Check out this link for a guide to running brainstorming sessions.

Go on a scavenger hunt
Get away from your desk and bring in new objects, toys, tools, things to play with. It’s even better if you’re working in teams and send everyone out to grab 10 things in 90 seconds and report back. Remember Apollo 13 when they had to build a new air filtration system out of what seemed to be a random pile of objects?

It’s time for old school
Technology is great, we all love it, it usually makes our job easier. Get away from it when you’re trying to get creative. Looking at a blank screen doesn’t help. Go sit in the break room with some pens and a notepad. Sit in the receptionist waiting area and listen in on some conversations while you doodle. Put yourself in a different situation or environment where you don’t do routine tasks.

Opportunity into the discussion
Realize that you don’t have a problem to solve, but an opportunity to bring something new to the table. Having an outlet or an opportunity to show some creativity is a rarity in today’s world of lawsuits, political correctness. Go out there, way out there, let someone else bring it in while you keep trying. Do the things you want to do but never could, say the things you are always afraid that will get you in trouble. Break the mold, stick it to the man!

Pitch it
Come up with quick 30 second elevator speeches. Even better, get in your elevator and just start talking about your idea/product. If you are in a lower building with just a few floors then you probably don’t have the resources to do something that will take a long time to explain. If you’re in a high-rise building creativity is probably stifled and you’ll need that extra time to come up with something that makes every department happy – sucks for you.

Say cheese
Get the camera out, step away from your desk and just start shooting photos – you only have 30 seconds so you can’t be worried about composition, or light, or frame. Just take as many pictures as you can and see what you come up with.

Run away to get closer
This is a goodie. The best ideas come when you aren’t consciously thinking about it. Remove yourself from whatever it is you’re trying to do and go do something else. Find something that is calming – take a walk, take a shower, go to the gym, remove yourself from the situation where you feel that you have to figure it out right now. Creativity isn’t a switch you can flip on and off – it’s a long process that is going to take time.

Time to go shopping
Visit a hardware store, or Walmart(or K-mart for those deeply opposed to it). Look through the aisles, pick up the stuff on the shelf, see how it works, what did they do it. What makes this thing more special than the others. Why do they want you to buy this one and not others.

Walk in the park or at least outdoors
Nature has always been the most creative system. That seems odd, a system that is creative. Go out there and pay attention to what is up there. Try taking a walk around the block only looking up. You’d be amazed at the new things you see since we spend all of our time looking forward to the next step we never take that alternative perspective.

Being creative is easier when it’s something you do on a daily basis. It’s about bringing together a number of different ideas to create a fresh perspective. It’s a frustrating process but it’s also an extremely rewarding one when you finally come up with that “AH-HA” moment. But for those who still don’t believe you can be creative because you always get blocked out. Check out the 7 Stages of Design Grief (I personally have it hung above my desk), it’ll put a smile on your face and can even give you some inspiration to be creative.