Exceeding expectations

People usually turn to Social Media to complain, in frustration for not being listened to. As a result, also due to this habit, Social Media is a sad place full of angst and regret.

So I decided I want to put in my 2 cents to fight this trend.

Case 1: Navdy

I purchased this product from a young company in California during a crowdfunding campaign in march, 2014; as it is not uncommon in these cases, the product suffered some delays and was finally delivered at end 2016.

When I installed it on my car, I immediately noticed that the Bluetooth connection interfered with the car’s connection with my phone, resulting in broken voice and dropped calls.

I filed an incident report with their support which called back the day after: after some email exchanges and two calls with California to test the problem, it was determined that the fix required a patch to the software which could take several months.

As a workaround, they sent me (free of charge) a BT JBL speaker to use instead of my car’s BT while we wait for the fix to arrive. It’s not a perfect solution – and they know it – but it allows me to continue to use their product while they work on the final fix.

Case 2: Thule

My two readers may remember the raving review I wrote when I bought my Thule trolley in 2011. In fact, this bag logged tens of thousands of kilometers with me, to my utmost satisfaction.

Then one cold February two years ago, I inadvertently chopped off one of the aluminum feet in the foul streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan, with the result the bag slightly tilts on its side. Frankly, that did not alter its functionality, but it annoyed me, so after much procrastinating, I decided to seek a spare part.

 

As it so happens, such spare part does not exist as standard, so I filed a case with the Thule Support, asking if they could make an exception.

Within 24 hours they came back to me, asking to see pictures of the bag and offered to replace it altogether, free of charge, which I gladly accepted.

Even though (to be entirely honest) I do not think I will decommission the old one…

What’s in your bag?

A few years ago, I made a list of the gear I carry when traveling, and in writing this post on the rules of efficient packing I realized its update is overdue.

So here is the 2017 version of

What gear is in my bag

  1. power brick
  2. USB to mini-USB cables (2)
  3. thumbdrives (never enough)
  4. Thunderbird to HDMI cable (male and female, I have been in meeting rooms where the HDMI cable screwed on the screen had only a male connector available)
  5. Thunderbird to VGA cable
  6. remote clicker
  7. spare batteries
  8. main power bank
  9. wireless mouse
  10. universal smartphone tripod mount
  11. mini tripod
  12. portable projector (an item I reviewed here)
  13. Mogics donut power strip + mains adaptor (as it came with a US plug)
  14. phone wall charger
  15. UK adaptor


The power brick (#1), portable projector (#12) and wireless mouse (#9) are the largest items; the latter I could probably do without: using a mouse is so much more comfortable than using the clickpad on the computer, but the reality is I very seldom do, as most of my laptop use when on the road is when sitting at an airport lounge or in flight.

The weight is of course a worry when traveling, but the lot comes in at 1,400 grams, which, together with the 1,350 grams of the Macbook Air, uses about 27% of my luggage allowance.

Travel learnings

This week I had a somewhat hurried depart for Helsinki – thanks to a misunderstanding with my client, I learned about my flight details only 90 minutes before take-off.

As luck wants, I was leaving form the airport closest to where I live, meaning I was at the gate with time to spare. However, I realised I have become sloppy with some of basic traveling golden rules, which therefore I sum up again here as an aide-memoire.

  • Travel gear always in ready mode – this means a two day change already in the bag, including light sweater; throw in a couple of shirt and I’m good to go in <5′.
  • Never-ever take my toiletry bag, nor my travel pillow-cum-rain jacket out of the bag.
  • Carry on bag should be half-empty to accommodate briefcase: too may airlines have become fiscal on the one bag thing to afford the risk of having your bag snatched at boarding time.
  • Passport ALWAYS in the briefcase’ front pocket
  • Backup power bank in the briefcase and the backup’s backup in the bag, while I await delivery of my Space Case
  • Should I purchase an “extreme emergency” power brick to leave in the bag at all times?

Case studies from History (1)

I am looking forward to a very intense fall traveling schedule which will take me to Mumbai, Istanbul and Cairo in the space of a few weeks.

I will start with the last one, because I will be covering a whole new topic which I never discussed before in a public occasion, and that is

Propaganda vs. True Public Engagement

How is Propaganda different from True Public Engagement?

Is one leading to the other, or are the two opposed? And, has this changed with the advent of Digital, which removed all barriers to access making each individual a potential, if temporary, news channel?

More importantly, perhaps, did the transition to Digital usher an era of more authentic Communications, where people talk to people directly and information is free to travel across the world?

My impression is that after a very short period of under-evaluation, Propaganda has learned its digital ropes quite well, if nothing else because Propaganda has money and it can afford the best consultants.

One of the largest contracts I led was the Digital campaign for the 2009 European Elections: the Party that was our client won, even though with age I stopped claiming merit for that victory. Barack Obama is widely credited to have won especially the 2008 election thanks to masterful use of Social Media; across Europe, new euro-skeptic parties thrive on digital-only communications.

The Goebbels of our time have demonstrated they are as good at manipulating public opinion as they were in the ‘40s because Digital and Social Media are a channel like any other: they are not un-stoppable, they can be (and are) monitored. If anything, for this purpose they are better suited than most channels, because all that goes through them is already in machine-digestible form: as a matter of fact, some of the most advanced Artificial Intelligence applications are classified and used in military grade surveillance.

Moreover, both sides of any dispute have become so good at storytelling that very often it is quite difficult to figure out who are the Good Guys. I presume we can all think of contemporary geo-political scenarios that fit this description.

When I look at the world we all live in, alongside glorious examples of citizen journalism I see evidence of digital tools being very effectively used to recruit and indoctrinate distraught youngsters to become terrorist chrysalises, ready to blossom into the next Breivik or Abdeslam.

So I started looking at the past, where I found two stories that I believe are of relevance, as they show how in the past crises not dissimilar from the ones facing us right now have been addressed using two of the fundamentals of Communications: Messages and Reputation.

You can call these Case Studies from History.

[more to follow…]

Back from Kyiv

Adventurous trip, marred by the fact I missed the outgoing flight due to an overrunning meeting to finish off with a renewed, scary acquaintance with aerosinusitis (if you don’t know what it is, call yourself fortunate and move on).

So all the trouble was in the trips, because – contrary to gloom-and-doom media reports of “Ukraine on the edge of the abyss” – absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened during my stay.

The Russia / Ukraine conundrum

To a foreigner eye the Russo-Ukrainian situation has settled into an uneasy balance. After all, the Crimea annexation happened in March, 2014, a time when the Russian economy, despite the global recession, was still growing at a 1.4% clip thanks to $100+/barrel oil.

Eighteen months later, the combo blow of sweeping sanctions and sub-$50 oil (entirely driven by the american shale sledgehammer) have Russia in a -1.5% GDP tailspin.

Eighteen months ago, Putin had the world believe that nothing could stop Russia if it set its mind to. Today Ukrainians are probably more in a positive mood than Russians.

However, much still is to be done in Ukraine: the first time it tried to break free of the Soviet Union, in 1941, it chose the wrong ally in Nazi Germany, a mistake which still haunts the reputation of the Ukrainian people more than they realise, but this time (1991) it firmly turned to the EU as a role model: never heard so many times people speak about “upholding European values” as in these two days in Kyiv.

The politicians I met here seem to have what it takes (business background, global perspective and experience) to reform a state organization probably still firmly rooted in Soviet-era bureaucratic practices, bring about a system of check and balances which to this date does not exist, while fighting the pressure of oligarchs. A tough job, if I ever saw one!

My presentation…

..went technically bad. Not just a minor glitch: the remote did not work well (too far) and the technicians were not prepared to manually advance the slides when I asked them to; and when they finally did, they would not stop and had to go back. Worse than it ever happened to me in many years of public speaking.

At the root of the problem is the still far-from-universal acceptance of Macs by the people who organise the technical side of conferences.

Everything is boned down to the lowest common denominator of boring text slides shown on Powerpoint, the single biggest crime against humanity ever performed by Microsoft, but I refuse to show a presentation that looks like something put together in the 80’s.

I usually solve this by asking them to use my computer, even though it often means giving up HD (unbelievable how many projectors still exist that do not have HDMI connectors). This time however I didn’t, trusting the fact that the presentation consisted mainly of videos.

This was a mistake, even though in the end the videos saved the day, because they allowed the audience to generously follow my remarks even while I was fighting with the capricious remote.

To be true, however, I rarely received so many compliments after a presentation so, to partly make up for the lousy performance, I decided to make a movie of it (as it was supposed to be) and post it here: who knows, some in the audience may still enjoy it in retrospect.

Travel stats 2014

As 2014 is drawing to a close, I checked out my travel statistics on Tripit: it says I have clocked about 42,000 km traveling to 18 cities in 7 countries in 2014, down from 46,000 km to 23 cities in 13 countries in 2013.

My overall track record says I have been to 48 countries in my life, including essentially all of Europe and North America, beginning to show some presence in Asia, but missing almost completely Africa, South America and Oceania.

The only surprising fact in all of this is that in each of the same two years I traveled another 40,000 km by car !

My Moscow

What did I learn in this last trip to Moscow?

Well for one, the Moscow Metro is now my bitch, thanks to the super app by Yandex: it knows where you are (yes, Milan, New York, London, Paris: there is free open wifi (almost) everywhere in the Moscow Metro, shame on you !!!), you touch where you want to go and it will show you the route.

On a translittered map you can actually read out should you need to ask for directions.

Secondly, weather. This is my first time in early spring, the weather was quite nice, but still hovering not enough far from 0°C to leave the coat at home; however, russians need a good oil shock to teach them to be a tad thrifty with their heating: any close environment is at least 5 °C too hot. If you will spend your day in a conference room, dress lightly to avoid overheating.

Thirdly, timing. Russians put italians to shame. You set an appointment for 11AM which effectively means “sometimes during the late part of the morning”. Or later. Pack a book: since you’ll be waiting you might as well use the time productively.

Then language. No, they don’t. Speak english, I mean. Hotel receptionists, store clerks, policemen, metro employees, restaurant waiters, taxi drivers none of them does – and this is an international metropolis that’s bursting at the seams with international business transactions; yet, unless you climb the corporate ladder quite a bit, do not expect english literacy.

Which does not mean you can’t get by. I bought metro tickets, coffee, food, a SIM for my phone (to avoid being ripped off by Voda) and I topped it up after a couple of days. All without speaking a word of Russian (except “Spasiba”) with people who did not speak a word of English (except “You’re welcome!”)

And while we are on language, the alphabet is not as hard to fathom as it initially seemed: I can read the greek alphabet and there are quite a few commonalities so I bet in another week I would be able to read with decent fluency. Which obviously does not mean understanding, but a surprising number of Russian words are actually simply translittered from other languages (French, English, even Italian) so you will be surprised at the number of signs you can actually figure out

The long road to Kyiv

As some know, I will be taking part as a speaker at the Communication on Top regional event in Kiyv, Ukraine.

Not my first time in Ukraine, but last time I was there I did not spend any time in Kyiv as the event was taking place in Yalta, which is a sea resort in the southern part of the country, on the Black Sea.

An ukrainian friend helped me a get a sense for what’s going on in that country at the moment, (and as usual it’s way more complicated than the media report) but I find it interesting that Europe is seen as a hope for fairer and more efficient government; of course even I, who always professed a strong pro-Europe stance, know that Europe has many defects and needs a lot of work to improve its ways: yet, the accession of countries like Ukraine and Turkey would have the immense benefit of breaking down stupid “blocs” (the muslim bloc, the ex-soviet bloc) which make no sense whatsoever, if they ever did.

That said, it is also for me a great opportunity to voice my most passionately contrarian opinions which do not get much hearing in Europe: for example I like throwing a marketing monkey wrench in the beautiful clockwork of ethereal concepts like Return on Experience, and I like to throw a feedback loop monkey wrench into the marketing smorgasbord of measurement for the sake of measurement which invariably gives out the alpinist answer to the question “Why should we measure this?”

(the alpinist answer – should you not know – is “Because it’s there!”)

My India – learnings

A very instructive journey, which prompts me to come back to learn a little more; I sure can understand how people say that traveling to India changes them.

One first consequence is a desire to know more about the history of this great country: a perusal of Amazon offering in the way of manuals reveals an abundance of books about british India and a relative scarcity of books about the whole story of India; also I am not seeking a 1000-page tome, but a more svelte format that I can digest quickly.

My impression is that the country India really started with the british domination – before there were four large states more or less perennially at war with each other and under the influences of the various potentates in the region.

This was repeated over and again by several people – no such thing as India. Dozens of languages, five main religions plus many more others, an enormous diversity in ethnicity: all of this points at a situation for me reminiscent of the Balkans – only 1,000 times bigger.

Secondly, the language. India may have “the largest english speaking population in the world”, but don’t mistake this for the statement “everybody speaks english”:  even if a privileged 20% speaks good english that leaves 80% who barely does or not at all. Even in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi we met a lot of people whose english sometimes was very basic.

Third, a few European shell-shocks: I was expecting poverty and lack of basic hygienic facilities to strike me, and they did. I was expecting the assault of beggars and salesmen, and that I did not get. I enjoyed walking for hours in bazaars in Mumbai and Delhi, stopping at carts and looking at stuff – yes, they obviously try to exercise their trade, but never aggressively and a simple “No” works almost universally.

I also enjoyed bargaining when I bought something – even though I have no illusion of beating the experts – nobody was ever pushy or aggressive.

Fourth, size matters, in so many senses. How do you lift 200 million kids from stricken poverty? Nitin complained about having too much work and not being able to find employable people for his business. Of course the road workers or janitors do not speak english: if they did, they’d probably get a better job as clerks in some company. Size also pushes the inequalities to extremes not experienced anywhere else I suspect. The beggars living in the streets and eating God knows what next to Bentleys rolling down the manicured Delhi avenues.

Talking to Cyrus we discovered that house prices are higher than in Milano, yet the intrinsic value of the buildings honestly cannot be compared – the price must be supported by the utilitarian value of real estate, which points to a layer of population similar to the European middle class in purchasing power, but can you imagine two-and-a-half times Europe’s middle class concentrated in 5 or 6 megalopolis instead of perhaos 30 or 40?

Fifth, this country exists in its present form since 70 years only: I purposefully excused myself for asking blunt questions about ethnic or religious strife, about the relationship with Pakistan or the feelings towards the Brits.  After 150 years of unity of Italy and one and a half millennium of roman empire my country still hasn’t really figured out where it stands on its own identity: these are things that run very deep and may require a few more centuries to really settle, but I am ideally positioned to ask these questions, I am italian and everyone loves us, essentially because we are a threat to nobody.

Sixth, we were very fortunate to spend our time in Delhi as guests of Roma on behalf of Mahindra Corp., not only for the exquisite hospitality in itself, but also because we lived in a house. While this is nowhere near experiencing living the city (we had two excellent gentlemen looking after us, preparing our food an driving us around) yet this was so different from the hotel life in Mumbai. Both ABCI and Mahindra’s hospitality were nothing short of superlative, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience both.

Of course, “blending in” is not an option: I am way too tall (even though someone told me that my complexion is not too far from that of indians), and Mirella’s platinum short hair attracted so much attention a few ladies asked to have a a picture taken together with her; but there is something, even after only a few days of wandering, that made me feel at ease even though I was and will always remain a foreigner, something that made easy asking for directions to porters or store clerks, that made language difficulties manageable. I guess I will have to spend a little more time on this.

Speaking of which, Yogesh and Deepak already said they will invite us again next year, and my wife said she is already booking her time to come along.

My India – 7 of 7

An optimized route meant we were able to see everything we wanted today. We started with Qutb Minar, the tallest minaret in the world: all built in masonry, its sheer size tells you what the use of steel has done to the art of tall buildings. And – talking of which – check out the pictures of the Iron Pillar, which stands rustless since centuries, and the stump that was supposed to become a minaret twice as tall as the one you see, had it not been for the death of its sponsor.

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We then moved to the Lotus Temple, built by the followers of the Bahá’ì faith:

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And to the Tomb of Humayun, a mausoleum built by a mourning Queen for the death of her husband. Not quite as extreme as the Taj Mahal, built later, the inspiration is however similar, the love of symmetry absolutely evident. It is obvious that other well-off (but not quite as well-off as an Emperor) attached their own, smaller mausoleums to that of the royalties, while other had their sepulchres added in teh chambers of the main mausoleum which in fact is called the City of the Moghuls because of its over 100 dignitaries’ tombs it contains.

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Last stop of our visit was the Jama Masjid mosque – built by the same Emperor who also built the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, Shah Jahan, the mosque is immense, although not at all the largest in the world. However I must confess that its main attraction for me was the sprawling bazaar at its foot, a close cousin of which no doubt must have inspired the Merchants in the Temple episode in the Gospels.

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We concluded our day at the huge Connaught Place market, where we bought a bunch of nice presents. This was a particularly instructive stop, because as we were looking for stuff, two times youngsters offered direction to this or that without any evident form of retribution; perhaps they were scouts from stores, but they both were a little too well dressed for this.

Anyway, the second one pointed us to the Nirula Handicrafts Bazar, a five story handicraft market located at 1, Doctor’s Lane, Gole Market, (5 minutes tutktuk ride from Connaught Place) which I highly recommend for everything from jewellery, carpets, silk and pashmina shawls, wood or silver carvings – you name it they have it.

It may sound intimidating to enter such a labirynthic complex on your own, but is was not at all – we bought what we wanted, got sold something else, said no to something else, but always in a good-natured way: a carpet merchant invited us to visit his store and when I said no, he asked if I was having a good time. I said yes and asked about him; he humorously replied his day would have been better if I had visited his shop.