Public Service Message: Speaking Up Isn’t Just a Korean Airlines Problem

JULY 11, 2013

@WaPo:Cockpit communication problem recalls 1999 Korean Airlines crash near London http://wapo.st/184YtzA 

On the Currying Favor twitter account, I posted a link to this Washington Post article about the recent Korean Air (KA)  Boeing 777 crash bringing back memories of the KA crash in 1999 outside London, UK. In his 2008 book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell mentioned that in KA cockpits, assistant pilots show extreme deference to the pilot, and that’s a reflection of Korean social norms. The younger and less experienced respect their elders and superiors at all cost. This would not be tolerated in US cockpits.

Larger US carriers may not have many crashes or cockpit communication issues, but before we hop a long distance flight on Smug Airlines*:

US regional airlines do have crashes more frequently, and they are staffed by poorly paid people with exhausting schedules. This issue was brought to light by the Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash in February 2009, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study that followed. According to a story by ABC’s Lisa Stark, a former Colgan pilot said, “They [Colgan] said safety was priority, a lot…In my experience, however, on a day-to-day basis, being on time and completing the flight was much more important.” 

On a wider scope, a lot of employees across many industries are inclined to keep their head down and their mouth shut. As noted by Tracy Mueller’s story in Texas, (the UTA McCombs School of Business Alumni magazine), a management research study revealed 70 percent of 260 people from a variety of industries and job types hesitated to speak up about problems at work or suggest possible improvements to their firm because they feared repercussions. According to his own studies, Ethan Burris, Assistant Professor of Management (UTA-McSoB), found that “employees who speak up and challenge the status quo are viewed as less competent, less dedicated to the organization and more threatening compared to those who support the way things are,” Burris says. “They are also rated as worse performers, and their ideas get less support.” Isn’t that weird? Constructive commentary is usually a sign someone’s paying attention, instead of the cliché of “just doing my job”.

Sure, not everyone is a pilot, and a problem at work isn’t as dire as an impending plane crash. But once any employee has noticed something is wrong, and he/she dared to share that information, having no one listen or try to affect the suggested change can be a morale and motivation** killer. After awhile, the employee can feel more like a minion, not an engaged employee hired to contribute unique, specialized talent.

Why pay thousands of dollars to find people who are a perfect fit, then ignore those people once they’ve joined the ranks? That makes about as much sense as not saying anything when the plane’s about to crash.

*=not a real airline, yet occasionally you meet its frequent fliers.

**=Yes, I linked to Dan Ariely’s Motivation TED talk for the second time on this blog. It’s that good.

Graduation, or Findings

JUNE 4, 2013

You don’t have to go to college to find graduation speeches inspiring.

You also don’t have to be 18-25 to get something out of them. Thankfully in the digital age you can watch them on Youtube over and over.

Sometimes they’re so awesome and well-received they get printed into books, like Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” speech at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts 2012 commencement. Or they are audio-recorded and played on pop radio two years later, like Mary Schmich’s “Advice Like Youth Is Wasted On the Young” from 1997, which became the hit single “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” in 1999.

Other times, context is everything. I think Conan O’Brien’s Dartmouth speech in 2011 was epic for two reasons. One, he’s amazing at what he does, but two, his life’s biggest dream up until that point (The Tonight Show) ended far too soon. It all played out on a very public stage, and he lived to tell the tale. How O’Brien handled it is what it means to not to wait for the storm to pass, but instead, dance in the rain. And everyone of us can expect rain.

Allow me to also point out that you don’t have to be a millionaire or celebrity to try to give counsel to younger people or other people. It’s not an issue of being so wise and wonderful, you ooze brilliance like Texas tea, and never make any mistakes.

Actually, there’s a good chance that if you have any advice to give at all, it’s because the opposite is true–you have experienced failure. You didn’t get what you wanted, or you got what you wanted, and it didn’t last.

You have made the mistakes, you learned, and it’s possible those failures still sting a little upon reflection. It’s not much stinging, just enough so you don’t forget.

So here’s some nuggets from my 30-something life, which is still very much a work in progress. I don’t see it as advice so much as reporting findings, and you can do with them as you like.

  • Stay in touch with your old friends, but try to make new ones all along the way.
  • Respect that the old friends will change, and you will too. The movies would have you believe the people you spent the first 18-25 years with are the same ones you will spend the next 20, 30, 40 years with. This is likely not going to happen. It’s a convenient plot device, saves cash on casting, and viewers can only follow or care about a finite set of characters.
  • If you admire individuals, let them know. Write them a letter. Watch for typos–you will look illiterate, and that’s not the point of the letter. I am not a celebrity, but I think a letter is better than the in-person “scream/gush and ask for a selfie” routine.
  • There is a balance to consumption and creation. Depression usually results from overconsumption, and a lack of creation to balance it out. This isn’t just eating and then failing to burn all those calories. I think it also applies to watching television, scanning the internet, etc. There’s energy there, and it needs to keep moving.
  • Don’t live to work, work to live. Rest and time off are essential to delivering 100%; without them you’re delivering 90%, 80%, 70%, 60%, 50% with each day. All the Red Bull and protein shakes in the world can’t change that (sorry Red Bull and protein shakes.)
  • If you’re an employee, don’t hide in your office or cube and expect to get noticed for working hard, or being the good little worker just like you were a good little student. Be visible, talk to your superiors at least once a week–even if it’s terrifying, tedious, or seems like highly conspicuous slacking off. People who aren’t seen, aren’t remembered, and those who aren’t remembered are easily forgotten and dismissed.
  • Don’t expect to make lots of lasting friends at jobs. If you do, good for you, but it hasn’t been my experience.  Once you leave that job, it’s often a case of “out of sight, out of mind” for both parties.
  • You will probably fall in love, or think you’ve found the ONE multiple times before you really have. As sweet as the idea of committing to your first love sounds, it’s tragic to think you could outgrow the other person because you both still had so much changing and finding yourselves to do between the ages 15-30. We live so much longer than our great grandparents did. At least if you commit later in life, you’ve found someone who knows themselves better, understands life better, and is more confident about adapting to change and disappointment than say, an American 15-year-old suburbanite is capable of.
  • If you are an employee, expect to change jobs a lot. If you work for yourself, expect every social encounter to be somewhat of a marketing opportunity. This has been hard for me, because who wants a used car salesman stereotype for a friend? It goes against my nature to boast. But it is worthwhile to tell people what you do, find out what other people do, and offer to be of help. No evangelizing, no pressure. Just sharing to be memorable and be of help later.
  • If you feel life has lost its meaning, the solution is not ending it. It’s finding new people, experiences, and ways to be useful to new sets of people. Adopt a shelter cat or dog if you don’t already have one. Volunteer to help at an athletic event or if you’re physically up to it, participate in an athletic benefit event. Volunteer to help rebuild a community after a natural disaster. Take a class in a subject out of character for you. Take CPR/CCR classes. Get training in emergency preparedness. Volunteer with an animal shelter or another cause that means a lot to you. Get involved in community theater. Teach English in your community. Help people with their reading, secondary language, or math literacy. Get involved in voter registration. Work for a political candidate or other positive social activist “change-maker” that you really admire.
  • Make a list of things you must do in life, for you. Start working on them immediately. There’s no sense in saving them for retirement. The 20th century idea of retirement doesn’t exist for the 50 and under crowd. For the 50 and over crowd, if they have the income to retire from a lifelong career, they’re not done with life’s obligations, they have other goals.
  • Pick up a copy of the Book of Me and answer the questions.
  • Travel. Whether it’s your own country (ours is enviably big, and it’s worth seeing up close) or a foreign one.
  • Ancaro Imparo were allegedly Michelangelo’s last words. Know that, you too, are just a beginner and will never stop learning.

 I know I will think of others, but I need to close this post for now. What would your “graduation/findings speech” have to say?

Intuitive Computing

MARCH 21, 2013
in·tu·i·tion 
noun

  1. direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension. 2. a fact, truth, etc., perceived in this way.                                                                3. a keen and quick insight.              4. the quality or ability of having such direct perception or quick insight.      5. Philosophy a. an immediate cognition of a object not inferred or determined  by a previous cognition of the same object.  b. any object or truth so discerned. c. pure, untaught, noninferential knowledge.

When a tech person describes an interface as intuitive (the adjective form of intuition), I get a little rankled. I admit, this is a pet peeve of mine, and it’s not worth initiating an argument.

It rankles me because computers aren’t natural and every part of them is based on logic, not anything intuitive.

Every new iteration of software and hardware makes changes that are meant to improve user experience for the better. If experienced users like the changes–for example, it saves them time or effort– they compliment the change and mistakenly call it “intuitive”. What I think they mean to say is,”thanks for building on my previous user experience instead of recreating the wheel at every step. Because you built on my previous knowledge, I make educated guesses about how to use the product, and I’m right 98% of the time.” 

In contrast, a novice trying to use this same technology wouldn’t have the same success. They’d stumble through the user experience like a first time user always does. If the computers or software were really, truly intuitive, that would not happen, now would it? We wouldn’t need user manuals, tutorial books and classes on how to use computers if anything about them was really, truly intuitive.

No one was born with, or is naturally, psychically equipped to, use hardware and software from the start. One way or another, a person had to learn it, in order to get a feel for the programmers’ and designers’ logic and layout. Once the user figured out that logic, it’s easier and faster to learn even more logic created by other programmers or designers. I’m not a neurologist, but I assume once the pathways have been laid out in your brain, more can happen on those pathways, and continue to be built.

I’ve often wondered if I’m the only person rankled by this misuse of the word “intuitive”. Apparently not. The following quote is attributed to Jay Vollmer in 1995

“Actually, the only truly intuitive interface is the nipple.”

Variations of this quote are attributed to Steve Jobs, Bruce Ediger, Scott Francis, and Taylor Hutt. Ediger felt it was all learned, including nipples. Some human babies are stubborn to nurse, some mothers don’t produce milk, or not enough. This is true.

Honestly though, humans are highly unusual mammals. We don’t rely on nature, we’ve created systems to counter nature every step of the way, so why wouldn’t our natural instincts start fading as well?

Among wild mammal populations, and even our domesticated dogs and cats, nipples remain intuitive. Wild baby mammals must be nursing within 24 hours of birth, otherwise, they would die from starvation. I’m not saying that wild babies never die from starvation, but that’s the exception, not the rule. 

                                           _____________________

Let’s just say “I have a feeling” that “intuitive” as it’s misused in computing, is a battle I will ultimately lose. English is in a constant state of flux. If enough people use one word a certain way, a new meaning is established, whether it’s consistent with the previous meanings or not. 

For example, “font”. When people say font in reference to software, they really mean a typeface: Helvetica is a typeface, while Helvetica Bold 14 is a font. But only graphic designers know that, and knew that prior to the computing revolution. They were the only ones who had to know it.

Meanwhile, whoever designed the software chose the word “Font” in his/her menu options. Maybe because it’s a shorter, catchier word that neatly fits in a menu box with a keystroke shortcut. Non-designer users of the software then start calling their  ypography decisions a font choice. They didn’t know any better, and after all, that’s what the command is called.

Because I love language and I have studied design, I’ll still call it a typeface. Then when another person asks, “what?what do you mean?”. I’ll reply, “You know, the font…”

These are the wordgeek’s blues.

 

 

Labels

MARCH 20, 2013.

The of & illness, :

Today on Currying_favor, I tweeted a link to a editorial piece by Caroline Ravello in the Trinidad Guardian. 

She talks about labels for people with a mental illness, and how they are all derogatory on some level. There’s really no respectful way to talk about mental illness without implying there’s a defect or failure on the part of the sufferer. In English, Mad, lunatic, crazy, maniac, and manic are just a few examples. 

I have to wonder:

  • What came first, the general bad attitude and fear of the mentally ill, or the labels? ‘Doesn’t this create monsters where none existed? 
  • If we weren’t so focused on one difference, instead of another person’s obvious humanity, and everything that remains relatable between ourselves and that person, would our labels reflect more compassion and respect instead of disdain?

There’s a lot of ways people who suffer with mental illness are dehumanized by prevalant and socially acceptable ignorance. A lot of people don’t seek treatment they want and need because their health insurance, their career path, or both will be permanently harmed by that decision.

Clearly we’re teaching our children wrong, then, because it’s supposed to be a mature, rational decision to ask for help when we need it, ‘isn’t it?

We are more aware than ever that a lot of people suffer with mental illnesses, for example, PTSD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Yet there’s still a lot most people don’t know about mental illnesses, or understand about different mental illnesses until they experience one themselves, or someone they care about develops one.

Enter “Mad Pride”, a movement started in Toronto in the 1990s to re-define “mad” as self-descriptive, but not stigmatizing terms. I hadn’t heard about this movement before now, but I do hope it gains traction. International Mad Pride Day is July 14. ‘Was it intentional to share France’s Bastille Day? I don’t know, but I think it works.

We need a more compassionate world; if we ostracize people who are different, we run out of people to talk to, and our world becomes overburdened with problems rather than solutions.

Click here for more about Mad Pride Day.

 

 

 

The Bible in Our Cultural Literacy

MARCH 18, 2013

Actress Roma Downey, and her husband, television producer Mark Burnett, were featured on this weekend’s CBS Sunday Morning. They were promoting their Sunday night mini-series, “The Bible”, on History Channel. Sunday night has been a ratings magnet for dramas for decades, whether the channel is PBS, ABC, or HBO. Sunday is a religious day for Christians. ‘You really couldn’t televise such a mini-series on a more appropriate night, ‘could you?

But I am really not here to promote the show, actually to highlight something that came up in the interview:

“We don’t need to make more TV.This is way more than that. . . . It’s a movement. It’s the Bible. It’s something everybody should know. Even if you don’t want to go to church, or believe, you should know these stories.” —Mark Burnett  (click link to watch interview)

Even in times, like the present, when Americans are leaving organized religion in droves, there are merits to reading and knowing the Bible. Why? We are a Judeo-Christian culture, and nothing will ever change that. 

If someone were studying Islamic and Arab culture and/or literature, they’d have to know the Koran.

If someone were studying Israeli or Jewish culture and/or literature, they’d need to know the Torah, or have someone religious explain allegories to them. 

Religious texts are deeply woven into history and referenced throughout Western literature. You don’t have to believe in the faith or call it your own, but you do need to know its stories and the meanings of those stories.

Let Me Get This Straight…

MARCH 11, 2013

If:

  • you had spinach in your teeth
  • your pants’ zipper was down in public
  • you exited the toilet with toilet paper stuck to your shoe.

You would want to know about it.

‘But online or offline communication errors are out of bounds?

Do you know who proofreads what she types quite often?

‘Even if she got it wrong after hitting send, will correct it, or delete and start over (if it’s an option)? This woman.

Because I am a writer.

I am judged by my words and my skills with words.

Furthermore, I love words, and I always have.

I care about communicating effectively, if I’m going to bother saying anything at all.

And that takes work, and thought, and rethought–even for the professionals.

 

On the move…

FEBRUARY 19, 2013

Well, you’ve probably heard that Posterous is going to shut down. The official date is April 30, 2013. This depresses me because it means the third move for BakingKookys, and the first move for this website. I started with tumblr, but it had issues. Posts still exist at BakingKookys tumblr, but everything is done via Posterous.

In addition to making it easy to post, Posterous was great at broadcasting a post’s arrival in multiple places.

Anyway, once this blog has a new home I will keep you, er, posted.