Failure to Communicate

I know that what the teachers want is my assessment of the physical condition of the book so that when my kid drops it in the kitty litter, runs over it with his bike, spills Ramen on it, leaves it at soccer practice when it starts raining, uses a corndog as a bookmark, or allows #11 to use it to write the one word he knows in 37 different crayon colors and then seal his work with his unique “day old chocolate milk” mark, that I’ll be on the hook for it’s degradation from “fair with binding that appears to have propped open the garage door in three different families” to “are you kidding me?”.

My children’s teachers send notes home with the textbooks asking for my estimation of their books in several categories. The Wife was visibly relieved when I quickly volunteered to review, comment and sign on the 53 different forms brought home by the seven enrolled there. Now I suspect she intercepts the children before they bring the books to me. Here’s why:

I know that what the teachers want is my assessment of the physical condition of the book so that when my kid drops it in the kitty litter, runs over it with his bike, spills Ramen on it, leaves it at soccer practice when it starts raining, uses a corndog as a bookmark, or allows #11 to use it to write the one word he knows in 37 different crayon colors and then seal his work with his unique “day old chocolate milk” mark, that I’ll be on the hook for it’s degradation from “fair with binding that appears to have propped open the garage door in three different families” to “are you kidding me?”.

However, I use the forms to send my feedback on the curriculum itself. I comment on science books that teach modernist theories contrary to the Catholic faith, math books that fail to explain the theory of “zero” or “infinity”, or history books that regurgitate Yankee propaganda about the War of Northern Aggression. My expectations are not unreasonable; it’s not like I expect them to explain to 8th graders the travesty of the 17th Amendment, which everyone knows should be taught in 9th grade, after all.

I’ve yet to get a response to the forms I send back. I thought it was perhaps because my cursive is indecipherable, even to me. I often look at my writing and wonder who had an epileptic fit while holding one of my blue pens, and then recognizing a character that resembles what Mrs. Rosenrosenstein  taught me in 3rd grade, I realize someone WAS writing something while riding a Tuktuk on cobblestone streets with a blindfold on during a sneezing session.  I would blame #11, except his strong, well-defined, bold “NO” is quite clear.

So the next time I sent a note to the school, this time for #4 who was supposed to bring in a number of color copies of some sort, I printed in large black caps, “#4 is bringing black and white copies rather than color copies because #6 saw fit to print 72 full color pages of Minecraft maps for some school project, and the printer his Mother bought at Goodwill three years ago is on strike and last seen headed to Ferguson, MO. I realize the obligation to turn in homework on time is important, a lesson I learned after failing to turn in homework on even a single occasion after 7th grade. Perhaps #6’s extensive map work is related to the search for the Holy Grail, and could be a subject of interest for both history and theology classes? If you have questions, please inquire with #6, who can be found in the 4th grade classroom between 7:30 and 3:15”.

I’ve still not gotten a response. Do you think the kids aren’t turning in the forms?

How to Kill Your Brand Cheaply and Quickly

United Airlines has roughly $40 billion in annual revenue. That’s $100 million PER DAY. What would it cost to employ one person with an IQ three deviations from the mean to say, “Here’s how we could steal market share, endear our customers to us, earn free media, recruit more caring employees, boost airline loyalty and change our reputation forever”?

In the study of God there is something known as “negative theology”, by which people learn about the divine through a definition of what God is not.  It sounds strange, but is illustrative.  Similarly, I think we can learn a great deal about business by learning what NOT to do.

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United is “Flyer Friendly”.

I recently flew United Airlines and had a terrible experience. While my first flight from Nashville to Chicago left on time and was pleasant, at least as much as it can be on a puddle jumper with a Duck Dynasty wannabe in the row behind me who spoke loud enough to demonstrate his arrogance and ignorance to everyone from row 21 to 10, my connecting flight was delayed five times-for a total of 4 1/2 hours.

Every 45 minutes the status was updated, as if the airline just couldn’t figure out what was going on (“Do we have airplanes? Do we have people who can fly them?”), and while the delay was a minor inconvenience, the manner in which United treats passengers is a textbook lesson in how NOT to interact with the public (and a great learning experience for marketers or PR personnel who want to know how to excel in business).

First, there was no communication from the airline; the passengers in the know (like me), got updates from the booking agency via text or email, long before gate attendants (had they been present) had information.

Secondly, the airline made no attempt (even half-hearted) at apology.  A simple “I’m sorry for your inconvenience”, goes a long way.  It soothes tired wives, frustrated travelers, and even irrational in-laws (well, maybe).  But for United-and other dinosaurs out of touch with the needs of post-Magna Carta mankind-this free expression of remorse is too expensive to be squandered on full rate-paying passengers.

Third, the airline offered nothing in compensation for the inconvenience. This gesture, a norm of human conduct so simple as to be understood by waitresses, pizza delivery boys, delayed husbands and anyone with a pulse in the service industry, is foreign to the airline.  It costs them almost nothing to offer a discount on a future flight, a free seat on the next route (there are often empty seats), a free drink, or even a refund.  Imagine if a gate agent said, “Ladies, gentlemen, and other passengers, we have now delayed your flight five times, and while we accept no responsibility for the disruption to your lives, the lost sleep, or the grave inconvenience to your friends, loved ones or hoped-for acquaintances, please accept a Martini on us”.  The concourse would erupt in applause.  The good will would be enormous.  3% of passengers out of the Cleveland hub would hope for this outcome.

No friendly tulips here.
No friendly tulips here.

Fourth, customer service reps lacked information that was available on flight status apps. I called United and the agent with a south Asian accent couldn’t tell me whether the plane scheduled to arrive in 30 minutes had even left its destination 45 minutes away (although a free android app accurately predicted it’s location en route AND accurate arrival time).

United Airlines has roughly $40 billion in annual revenue.  That’s $100 million PER DAY.  What would it cost to employ one person with an IQ three deviations from the mean to say, “Here’s how we could steal market share, endear our customers to us, earn free media, recruit more caring employees, boost airline loyalty and change our reputation forever”?

For United, whatever the price, it’s likely too much.  But for the others, I’m 213% more effective at half the price of whoever planned your current customer relationship model.

Life in Autismland

My ninth son, Jude Christopher, is three years old and mildly  autistic.  He says only one word and he says it repeatedly and very well; “No”.  He likes to spend most of the time alone, he gets angry often and for no easily discernible cause, and his fits of rage are as unpredictable as they are uncontrollable.  He needs very little sleep.  It is a challenge for any parent and no easier if you’ve raised 10 other “normal” children.

His Mother does not like that I tell people he is autistic.  She likes to say that he is ‘on the spectrum’.  I find this is the way moms and professionals dull the diagnosis.  It is true that not all autistic kids are the same, and at three years of age, he doesn’t suffer from some of the same burdens others do.  She prays for a miracle but takes him to therapy twice a week and hopes to have him in a tailored program soon.  I pray for a miracle but am prepared for a different life for and with him.

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Neither Doctors nor parents really understand autism.  It is particularly difficult to understand because those who suffer from it usually have great difficulty communicating.  Many do not communicate at all.  They cannot explain what they do understand and don’t, what is hurting them or bothering them, what they need or want.  Human touch is often bothersome.  Ordinary acts of kindness or intimacy might be irritating.  Vocal or physical outbursts may be completely uncontrollable but also strangely comforting.

If you have any interest in autism, I would like to strongly recommend you read a book titled, “Ido in Autismland”, by a young autistic boy who has learned how to communicate via an iPad style device.  He provides a revealing and wrenching insight into the prison-like existence of many autistic children.  He also blogs.  His is a unique perspective and I encourage you to read the book.