Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Exercise and Religion

Every once in a while my Tae Kwon Do instructor will have a short discussion on ki. During these discussions he always makes note that "this is not religion", which is true. But ki does belong in the mind-body-spirit tradition that is a part of many religions, and it made me think of the relationship of exercise and the major world religions.

Buddhism has a long tradition of having an exercise component, including, of course, martial arts. In fact, Shaolin Buddhist monks are traditionally credited with inventing Kung Fu. Hinduism has Yoga, which is definitely an exercise, which anyone who has taken Yoga will attest (in the West, however, the religious aspect has largely been divorced from the exercise). Islamic exercise consists of maiming, torturing and killing anyone who isn't a Believer, which really burns the calories (ever seen a fat terrorist?). But what about Christianity?

Thinking about sects ranging from Coptic to Catholic I can't think of any that have an exercise component. And it is actually a little curious that the body is left out of the mind-spirit mix since Christianity is actually one of the few religions (and perhaps the only) that actually believes in resurrection of the body as well as the spirit. If Christians are going to get their bodies back one day, one would think that taking care of them, or some sort of exercise, would be a component of this religion as well.

Monday, May 30, 2005

No EU? No Problem for Business

While most of the reaction to France's rejection of the EU Constitution has been political, I thought I would add a short analysis to what this means to American businesses: nothing.

The movement to the Euro, which is probably the biggest change to business, is already completed. There were probably going to be another layer of taxes and regulations that were to be imposed as a result of a Constitutional EU, but they are already high in Europe and would have been incremental (and the individual countries will still be piling them on, so no net savings either way, really).

Actually, it is somewhat good news to American companies. The bonds that tie European competitors down - expensive labor costs, difficulties in shedding workers, high regulatory hurdles - will now have no chance of slowing. It's interesting that some polls showed that these very items, which have created double digit unemployment in France, were part of the reason that the French voted against the constitution: the fear that the constitution would increase competition. They seem to fail to note that businesses there are shedding jobs like crazy anyway and if they don't open up to competition the trend is just going to continue.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Another Consulting Dilemma - We, You, I?

So you are a consultant. You are helping a company develop a marketing plan. You get a feel for their product and develop a product plan, promotion plan, competitive analysis, the works. So as you talk to your customer, what pronouns do you use when you have conversations like:
"When (you/we) announce the product, (you/we) should have a core customer already committed whom (you/we) can quote in the press release."

"(Your/Our) competitor is really flagging in this particular segment and should be where (you/we) attack."

"I have an idea for a product extension for your product line"
OR "Our product line should be expanded into these areas".
The reason it is a dilemma for most consultants is because the goal of a consulting project is to suggest the next steps, which turns into a new consulting contract, so "we" is actually the goal. In my particular case the consulting contract is an extended job interview for both sides, and my use of "we" would be a good way to signal that I feel like a part of the "team". But I also don't want to sound presumptuous.

What I am currently using is a mix of both, plus some awkward sounding phrases like "When does (The Company) plan to have the product announced?"

But maybe it's okay to be presumptions. I was in a meeting with the *CEO* and he introduced me as a consultant, then added "But we hope to make him permanent." That's a pretty good signal, except I have seen plenty of CEOs agree to deals that never went through, which is a subject for an entirely different blog entry.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Reader Advice: Dealing with a Slacker

From the Mailbag:
Dear Director,

I recently started a new job. The new company is relatively small and employs a global "out of the office" mailing list. I noticed through this function that the technical writer slotted for my team has been out of the office "sick" or "leaving at 10 to go to the doctor" very frequently (for all day appointments?)

Two weeks ago, following a bunch of "out sicks," he was going to be out three days for a company paid-for training class, which he made for all three days. Last week, two of his "leaving early/out sick" messages came in time-stamped about 7:35 a.m., which means that he was at the office early and I missed seeing him by about 25 minutes.

Although he could theoretically be on some kind of funky flex time, this reminded me of the WSJ article a couple of years ago that talked about slackers using technology to simulate their actually being in the office without showing up. (The simple form is leaving a set of keys and a wallet on your desk). So this email could have been set up the day before to go out that morning or done remotely.

This guy doesn't report to me (though his boss has been out often lately sick, too), nor do I have any visibility into anything he's produced to bolster confidence in his ability to deliver. As often as the guy's out, I'd expect he has been battling ebola or something else I don't want to catch. However, since he was healthy enough to make it to his training class, I think he may be a slacker.

I'm new, and don't have a sense for the politics, but my project is about to kick off and his chronic absenteeism is a risk that I don't want to bear without adequate ass-coverage. Any suggestions on how to best position this?
According to my copy of the Sith Manager Desk Reference, the technique for dealing with slackerism, absenteeism, or any other sort of ism is to use the Force to crush his trachea. However, your new company may not subscribe to this management technique, and it usually annoys the people in HR.

My recommendation is to set a meeting with him in one of the times he is in the office and not contagious. Discuss your program, the timeframe, his responsibilities on the program, what you expect of him, and what his deadlines are. Give him all of this in writing. Then follow up with him on some sort of regular basis - at least weekly - once your project begins, tracking his progress and how he is keeping up with his deliverables. Keep meeting notes of the initial meeting and all subsequent followups.

The hope is that all this officialness will get his ass in gear - at least for your program. Best case you incentivize him to do his job. Worse case you have a paper trail for nailing his ass/covering yours should things not go well.

Since you are new and have no history on what this guy really does, you really don't have a lot of other options. I wouldn't elevate it in your position since your complaints/concerns may seem like whining since you don't know what this guy's reputation is yet within the organization (maybe his management knows he is a slacker, but they could think he is awesome - I have seen stranger things in business).

Any other advice out there?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Fruits of California

One of the things that sort of amazed me when I came to California seven years ago was that I had fruit growing in my yard. This is not a big deal to a huge portion of the country, but to a guy who grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast it was something close to amazing. The only thing edible that came off of trees while I was growing up were pecans.

So I just fell in love with the very large, old plum tree that was in my yard. The only problem is that I get, literally, hundreds of plumbs from it every year, which are far more than I can eat or give away. I decided one year to do something with my huge crop and tried making plum wine with the instruments I already had for my home-made beer brewing (a hobby that was doomed once Little Miss Director came along). Unfortunately the results were pretty bad. Instead of drinking it I now use it to loosen rusted lug nuts and other items in the garage. Mrs. Director tried another year to bake them into something, but plums just don't cook well into things.

Deciding plumbs had too narrow a use, I soon planted a citrus tree. The reason I use the generic "citrus" is that it has all three fruits - oranges, lemons and limes - grafted together onto a single trunk for people like me who can't figure out which they want. So I get oranges to eat, lemons for cooking, and limes for my gin. I thought this was a good way to get full utility out of my home grown fruit, and little goes to waste.

But this wasn't enough for me. One day I was eating a peach, pondering the limited scope of my orchard, and it hit me. Why not plant the pit from this peach and see what happens? I planted the pit in my side yard, and thanks to the fertile OC soil (it certainly wasn't my doing), it sprouted and was bearing fruit in only nine months. Pretty amazing.

This is the second year it has borne fruit, and besides eating the wonderfully fresh peaches, I also bake them into a cobbler (that's like a pie for you folk not raised in the South). And yes, *I* make it, not Mrs. Director (although I do use Emeril's recipe).

So here were the peaches at 7pm, freshly picked from the tree.

Here's the cobbler at 10pm, hot out of the oven (I ran out of dough to make the lattice look complete on the side, and yes, I am too lazy to do that weaving thing and just criss-cross it).

The pie yield on fresh peaches is pretty low, despite what Emeril's recipe says, so over half of those peaches in the picture are in the cobbler. And it's incredibly good.

Unfortunately with my Fabulous New Back YardTM, I really don't have any more room for another fruit bearing tree, although I am sort of out of ideas of what I would plant anyway (I don't think apples would make it California, would they?)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Five Hours in Tijuana

I had 24 hours to kill (had to use a vacation day) and thought about Vegas (been there, done that), Catalina (it's like Newport, except on an island), and finally settled on a San Diego/Tijuana jaunt since after living here seven years, I need to be able to say we have been to TJ at least ONCE. After getting some TJ pointers and advice from Calblog, Mad Mikey, and Citizen Smash, I decided to take the plunge.

I pointed the car south and were at the border in about two hours. The odometer registered only 100 miles, and it's something of a shock to realize how close I really live to the border, although my gardener would tell me it's quite reachable by foot.

I parked in the very convenient $7 lot on the U.S. side - it's lighted, has security cameras, and guards patrolling on bikes (not that anyone should be worried about leaving their car unattended near the border or anything). We took the tour bus - MEXICOACH - from the parking lot, which is HIGHLY recommended. This red bus picks you up at the lot, wisks you through the express car lane at the border, and drops you at the main tourist drag for the grand total of $2.50. Of course that's the cost of two and a half beers in Mexico, but money well spent.

Actually, the bus doesn't really "stop" going into Mexico, it just slows down to 45 mph. The bored looking guard that waved us through didn't even glance at the bus. Illegal aliens and terrorists are not a concern of the Mexican border police.

After the border the bus takes you a few miles to the main tourist drag, Revolution Avenue, or as the locals like to say, Avenida de Revolucion. This area has about five blocks of shopping and eating. Strike that. It is one block of shopping and eating repeated five times. Each block contains the following:

Two Drug Stores - Drugs are cheaper in Mexico, but not dirt cheap. I elbowed our way passed senior citizens buying Lipitor and looked into a few prescriptions we use, but they were more expensive than the co-pay on our insurance plans. The other deal, however, is that you can buy drugs there without showing a prescription, so we saw plenty of guys buying Viagra - maybe they were heading to the local brothels later? (if so I hoped they picked up some penicillin as well). I picked up some antibiotics to have in the house without having to go through the hassle of a prescription.

One Zebra-Painted Burro - I don't get this, but every damn block had a burro painted as a zebra where you could get your picture taken. I guess if you were very, very drunk it might make sense, and we saw plenty of drunk Americans.

One Liquor Store - Liquor isn't a bargain unless it is made in Mexico, so Kahlua and tequila is it. All the other liquor they have is the same or more expensive than Costco. One item that is WAY cheaper is Vanilla (sold at the liquor stores, but other shops as well), which Mrs. Director notes is five dollars for a tiny bottle in the States, but about $3 a gallon there.

Three Cheezy Souvenir Shops - T-shirts, shot glasses, sombreros, moraccas, the usual tourist schlock.

Two "Silver" Shops - Will it turn your finger green? How pure is it really? It's one of the mysteries and suspense of buying in TJ. In addition there are two guys walking around with silver chains on their arm offering to sell to anyone they get within arm's length.

Three Bars/Restaurants - Eating and drinking establishments range from tacky American tourist specials (Hard Rock Cafe) to strip clubs (the barkers will try to get you in even if you in the company of a female) to little hole in the wall eateries. Nearly all of them have a barker out front ("Free beer for the lady!", "You want a free tequila shot?", "We have been holding a seat just for you!") . I actually found one of the hidden gems of the strip, Especiale, which is in the basement of a little shopping center and a bit hard to find since, thank goodness, they have no barker. It was a little more expensive than the dirt cheap fare at street level, but worth the nice ambiance.

0.5 Artisan Shops - There are shops that sell quality fare, but they are a little hard to find as shown by my fractional estimate of their frequency. But with a little hunting and patience you can find them.

I took MEXICOACH back, which again is HIGHLY recommended. The border crossing back had a three mile line of cars trying to get into the Sates, but the bus goes to a special lane right up to immigration where everyone gets off the bus and into line. Immigration was perfunctory and faster than anything I have ever experienced in an airport. They took a glance at my license, asked me my nationality, and waved me through. They didn't even check my bags for what I was carrying (which included one contraband Cuban cigar since my smuggling trips to Korea are over for the time being). Five minutes later we were back on the bus, which dropped us off at the parking lot.

The time from when I left my car until I got back was five hours. I shopped, ate, drank, and had a good time. One afternoon and early evening was the right amount of time to spend in TJ. While it was fun, I am not sure we would do it again, but at least I can now say "been there, done that."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Consulting Dilemma

I got a lead for a new consulting client that is hitting the VCs and wants help rewriting their business plan. My friend who sent me the lead pointed me to the company's web site for more info should I be interested in bidding on the project.

I took a look at their basic concept and......eh. Nothing to blow anyone's socks away . I knew I had to decide: do I act excited about the opportunity and try to dress up this pig, or do I take a pass?

I'm in marketing, and my job is to, well, market. That means taking things that aren't exciting, interesting and dynamic and make them all of those things. Plus I am supposed to go out and make money. On the other hand there is the opportunity cost of taking such a project, plus potentially being attached to said project if the spin doesn't quite work out and it ends up as an unmitigated failure.

A similar consulting dilemma comes up when a consultant comes up with a negative report on a project he is working on. For example, let's say a consultant feels that the project he is working on should be killed. If the consultant gives the company his honest opinion, he may lose the client for good, especially if management has a vested interest in the project. If the consultant tells the client what he wants to hear, however, he will not only keep the client, he will keep the billable hours going as the project continues. I have never been in this situation, but I tell myself that my ethics are such that I would give my honest opinion. However, I understand that others in this situation may feel differently, especially if they had a mortgage payment coming due.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

It's Nice When the Client Makes the Hard Parts Easy

Consulting is asking to see the client's watch and then telling him what time it is. - Old Business Saying

As a part of my consulting agreement, my client is having me do a market study to see if their gizmo is a good fit for the cellphone market, something I'm something of an expert it. The VP also asked me to add to the report a study on the "wanuzit" market, an area that I know nothing about (I can't say the real market for proprietary reasons, so am using a fictional name, like widget). Straight away I said "okay". I have no market data on wanuzits and I know no one who works in that market, but wasn't too concerned since I knew a solution would present itself. It always does. I just didn't realize it would come from my client.

Later on I was meeting with the CTO, who asked how my study was going. I told him about my progress and that I was looking into the wanuzit market. "Oh, really? Let me tell you about that market!" He then proceeded to verbally dictate the pertinent section of my report to me, including how their product fit into it. Problem solved.

The funny part is that the more time I spend with my client the more I run into stuff like this. They know their markets fairly well, and obviously understand their gizmo more than I do, so I am wondering what marginal benefit I am providing them. I will say the more time I spend with the company the more impressed I am with it, so I am getting the feeling that this is an extended job interview for both parties.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Is this a Consulting Project or Term Paper?

As I get going on the GENESIS PROJECT, I am having flashbacks to my graduate school days:
Then - Had an advising professor who signed off on the project outline before I could begin.
Now - Have an advising Vice President who signed off on the project outline before I could get the contract approved

Then - Weekly meetings with the professor to go over progress and status of the research and report.
Now - Weekly meetings with the VP to go over progress and status of the research and report.

Then - Project was to be an original piece of work showing my understanding in a body of knowledge
Now - Project is to be an original piece of work using my understanding in a body of knowledge to propose a business model to the Vice President.

Then - Completed work was on the order of 50 pages
Now - Completed work will be at least 50 pages (with diagrams and illustrations).

Then - Timeframe for completion: one semester
Now - Timeframe for completion: 4 weeks

Then - Woke up in the middle of the night worried if I would finish the project on time.
Now - Wake up in the middle of the night worried if I will finish the project on time.
Of course there was one big difference:
Then: Paid a 5 figure sum for the privilege to write the report.
Now: Being paid 5 figure sum for to write the report
And this is the difference that really counts, doesn't it?

Friday, May 13, 2005


From the mailbag: Would you recommend a good book or two on the TAM/SAM/SOM/3C business planning process?

People make fun of scientists and engineers with their use of acronyms, but marketing has plenty of its own, and someone not in marketing may wonder what the hell they mean.

To answer the question, most marketing books today typically try to push a "new" concept - guerilla marketing, viral marketing, etc. - rather than this basic stuff, so I'll give a quick run down on these items using some real-world examples before getting to a recommendation.
Scenario - You market a widget for the cellphone camera market. Your widget is only used in phones that have cameras embedded in them.

TAM - Total Available Market - In this example this would be the total cellphone market.

SAM - Served Available Market - This would be cellphones with cameras since your product is only used in them.

So the first question, is why distinguish between TAM and SAM, especially since you don't even sell into phones without cameras? The answer is that one way to grow your revenue without increasing market share is to grow the number of cellphones with cameras (or the penetration rate). So the SAM/TAM designation is used to distinguish between actually growing your market share versus just growing your volume. It also allows you to look at strategies on how to push penetration for your served segment instead of just market penetration if you happen to be in a market where SAM penetration is stuck. This chart shows the TAM/SAM breakdown for cellphone cameras:

Obviously there are plenty of markets where the TAM and SAM are the same.

SOM - Share of Market - this is just the market share you have in your SAM, or in this case your total volume versus the total SAM volume. As noted above, by comparing your SOM to both your SAM and your TAM, you can get a feel if you are really growing market share, or just increasing volume along with the total market growth.

Okay so far? Next we get to the 3Cs. Everyone knows the 3Rs, but what are the 3Cs of Marketing? Customers, Company, and Competition. The idea is that when doing business planning you have to do an analysis and get an understanding of these items when creating a business plan. So in our case you would do an analysis of customers Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, etc. Look at what your competition has on the market, what their roadmaps are, and also understand what your company's products and roadmaps are and how they compare and serve the market. In doing this analysis you would probably do the 4Ps: Product, Pricing, Placement and Promotion.

When I do business planning, however, I like the model presented by Michael Porter in his book Competitive Advantage. This is a pretty hefty read, and a little dated now, but the model itself is timeless and what I use for business analysis. It expands on the 3C concept to understand an industry through its entire value chain:

The thing Porter points out with this model is that just understanding your competitors, customers and company is not enough. For example, can a supplier forward integrate into your market and become a competitor? Can a customer backward integrate and become a competitor? New entrants and substitutions are always a threat. And regulations by the government should always be considered since they can break - or create - entire markets on their own (v-chip makers owe their whole product line's existence to a government regulation).

Porter has some more recent books on this topic, and his model has been picked up by plenty of others, so I would suggest a look along this line of thought for anyone doing business analysis or planning.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I Don't Know Who to Cheer for in this Fight

Google versus France. I have to decide which one I dislike more (from the WSJ, link by subscription only):

France Mobilizes, Seeks European Allies to Fend Off Google
Earlier this year, in the name of protecting its culture, France launched a campaign to say "non" to Google Inc. Paris has since persuaded its European neighbors to join it in a $128 million project to counteract the U.S. Web search engine's dominance.

My dislike of Google just gets deeper each month. I was already torqued at their far left-wing news aggregation, and I just keep reading things that get me more and more angry with them. I do use Blogger, but keep in mind that 1) it is free and 2) I don't use their advertising service. So I am actually screwing them by using up free bandwidth and storage. I would move if I could, but with over 700 posts, I really don't want to go through the hassle - so I am stuck due to switching costs.

For this fight, however, my dislike for France is much deeper, so this is one time where I find myself on Google's side.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Name That Project

...why not assign (your consulting projects) cheesy Apprentice-like names?

- Dutch Driver

Good idea. The problem is I can't think of a clever name (some consultant I am, huh?). So my proposal is to provide a broad overview of the project and you, Dear Reader, get to input a cheesy Apprentice-like name, from which I will select the cheesiest. Here it is:

1) It is a tech product

2) There are two ways to make the product: Process A and Process B

3) Process A has the largest market share, about 65%, since it is the lowest cost. Process B is a little higher cost, but requires lower capital investment at the factory, so smaller, less efficient companies usually end up using it.

4) My customer has come up with a procedure that will make Process B cheaper than Process A (I'll call it Process B+) . Their proposal is to license the technology to others who are already established in the market.

5) My job is to do some market research to see if the cost of B+ is low enough to displace Process A, and if so, create a business plan on how I would penetrate the market. Selling it to Process B people is seen as a secondary benefit since if A goes, the B manufacturers will follow.

6) To make things interesting:

o B+ is barely out of the R&D stage

o The customer has never participated in this market (which is why they hired me to consult them on this) . To their credit they don't want to go into the market themselves, but license the technology and take a royalty.

o Process A manufacturers obviously have a lot of sunk cost in that process already, so even if B+ requires low capital investment and offers lower cost, is it enough to get customer to switch from A (or add it to their factories)?

Okay, there are the notes. Name that project (leave submission in the comments section).

Monday, May 09, 2005

Book Review: Mastery

On the advice of Slacker Manager, I added Mastery to my last order from Amazon. The book intrigued me since it was written by an Aikido Master.

In the U.S. just about every sport has been presented as a metaphor for life: football (Vince Lombardi), golf (many, many examples), baseball (George Will), even boxing (the fictional Rocky Balboa). There are dozens of books out there that use martial arts as the metaphor, but I picked this one up just because the timing of the recommendation coincided with some thoughts I was taking away from my own martial arts practice.

The book's overarching premise is simple and something you have heard before: it isn't the goal that matters, it's the journey. Everyone nods in understanding when they hear this, but it is another matter to put the concept into practice. Most of us are racing for goals - the next promotion, the VP title, the perks of the corner office - when what should matter is taking joy and pride in the practice of what we are doing. For my career that would mean taking enjoyment and pride in the act of marketing - even if I don't make a bazillion dollars or get annoited as CEO of SuperMegaCorp. What matters is that I become better and better in my selected profession each day and take joy in its practice, even if I retire in obscurity.

And this was an idea I was getting to on my own with my martial arts training. Most martial arts in the U.S. have the coveted Black Belt. It is a part of the popular culture and is (rightly) seen as a significant right of passage. Beginners in class look at envy at those with more advanced belts - especially the Black Belt - and talk among themselves on how long it will take them to get to the next rank, how long they will have to bear the stigma of the lowly white or yellow belt, how fast they will race up the ranks to get the Black.

After a few months the realization hits some (but not all) that the belts don't really matter. It is the enjoyment of practicing that matters. Of becoming better. Of honing your skills. Of doing something every day - no matter how insignificant - that makes your art better. In fact, most martial arts Masters consider the Black Belt as someone who just has all the basic skills down and is just now ready for true learning. And the true Black Belt doesn't quit the day after he gets the title. It's just another rank and the learning continues the next day.

So I enjoyed the book's message, and it's a quick read which can be done at one sitting. I also liked his characterizations of the various students he has seen over the years - the dabbler, the hacker, the excessive - which he feels characterizes how many people treat most aspects of their lives.

I do have some complaints about his griping about American consumerism and capitalism. I sort of skimmed over those sections, but I figure he had to do it if he is going to complain about short-term goal setting and instant gratification, which I do admit is rampant in our society. There is some pseudo-zen stuff in there that is okay if taken with a grain of salt. He also griped several times about Lombardi's famous quote "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing", which he feels goes against his philosophy of Mastery.

I think he took this quote out of context since his philosophy and Lombardi's are actually closely related. That quote is only one part of a speech, which also includes:
"Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he's got to play from the ground up, from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That's O.K. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body."
I think this also sums up the concept of Mastery, just in a different way.

Taking these complaints into consideration, I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The TSA Has This Gender Thing Confused

Going through the San Jose airport yesterday I kept tripping the alarm, even after I stripped every piece of metal off of my person. Apparently SJC has their detectors set so high that my watch was setting off the alarm (by comparison I went through the Orange County airport detectors that same morning with all my jewelry and my shoes without any problem).

At any rate it meant I heard the shout most dreaded by frequent fliers: "Male TSA screener needed in area two!" I stoically waited for my pat-down.

Soon enough, out came Dirk. The best days of Dirk's life was when he played tackle for the Oakland High School Patriots, and in remembrance of those lost times he never got rid of the mullet that the whole team wore as a sign of their camaraderie. As Dirk patted me down, wondering aloud if I lifted weights, I couldn't help thinking how screwed up the U.S. was in this area compared to Japan.

In Tokyo's Narita airport I was ordered for a pat-down on my first trip over after 9-11. I was politely asked to step into a waiting area where Miyako suddenly appeared before me in a smart red uniform, pill box hat, and white gloves. She bowed low and in soft, broken English asked "You will excuse??" I nodded and soon enough little Miyako started patting down the big gaijin, giggling ever so slightly in embarrassment in that demure way that Asian women have. It was over all too soon, but I was relaxed and serene. It is something I highly recommend for all men getting on a plane for a 10 hour flight, and when going to Japan now I usually pack a knife or can of mace to ensure I get my pre-flight massage.

So if the TSA started an opposite-sex pat-down - at least for men - I think their public perception might improve dramatically.

I Listen More Than I Think I Do

Nine months ago I was visiting a vendor for my company. It was a technology I was not familiar with, but I was there discussing non-technical issues. The company insisted on giving me a plant tour, and although I wasn't really interested, I went along.

As the plant manager droned on I nodded in the right places, raised my eyebrows in feigned interest, occasionally asked a question. During this whole time half my brain was on other issues: Would they feed me lunch after the tour? Would I get upgraded on my plane ride home? Were there any cute girls working on the line? (alas, there were not).

Fast forward nine months and during my discussion yesterday (which, as predicted, turned into a consultation), I was asked if I knew how a certain product was manufactured - the same technology where I took the plant tour nine months before.

To my own surprise I launched into a detailed discussion of the manufacturing techniques, equipment, machinery, and process, using all the correct engineering terms and vernacular. The original plant manager would have thought I hung on his every word since I gave a complete summary of his presentation, although at the time I thought I barely listened to him at all.

I find this sort of thing happens regularly. I'll sit in on a conference call while doing email, not really paying attention. Asked a week later what was discussed I can give a complete summary of the key issues and action items.

So this, what, trait? Technique? Subconscious learning? Has really been useful in business.

The only problem is that it doesn't work on Mrs. Director. She will be talking to me while I am doing email or reading the paper and then ask me "Did you hear what I said?" And when that happens all I do is give her a blank stare.