Southwest Airlines Removed Family From Flight Over Lice Allegation (Problem: Family Says No Lice Were Found)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

This may sound like a lousy reason to remove a family from a flight.

The Newman family — mom, dad and two daughters, aged 4 and 6 — were on their way from Chicago to Disneyland.

Their chosen airline was Southwest.

It all went wrong, however, when they were waiting to get on the plane.

“There was some dry skin in my daughter’s hair,” J Newman told NBC Chicago. “So, she [his wife] was just kind of taking it out of my daughter’s hair.”

It seems, though, that some fellow passengers expressed their lack of fellowship to a Southwest gate agent.

They suspected that the little girl may have lice.

Dad described his family’s reaction after the gate agent expressed concerns like this: “And we looked at each other like are you serious right now or is this a joke?”

Oh, you know where this is going, don’t you?

The family was removed from the flight.

There’s no evidence that their daughter had lice. There’s no evidence that the family did anything wrong.  

They say, however, that Southwest offered them an alternative flight — two days later.

I contacted Southwest to ask if all it takes for a fellow passenger to be removed is for someone to complain that they might have cooties. 

If so, I suspect many might be tempted to try this route. 

An airline spokeswoman told me: “Our Chicago Employees working flight 1652 to Oakland were approached by multiple Customers with concerns about a fellow passenger in the gate area exhibiting behavior consistent with a highly contagious condition. We never want any of our Customers to walk away with a negative experience but when we are approached by multiple people, we’re obligated to look into the concerns. After our conversation with the family, we determined it would be best to rebook their travel for another day. Our Employees are responsible for the well-being of hundreds of thousands of Customers daily and are well-known for the care and hospitality they show time again. We must always prioritize the health and Safety of our Customers and Employees as our top priority.  We regret any inconvenience delayed travel has caused the family and have refunded the cost of their tickets.”

Look into concerns? Does looking into them simply involve booting a family from a flight? 

Or might that only happen, some may fear, if there are other customers available to take those seats?

Some airlines do have a thing about lice. 

Earlier this year, sports analyst Clay Travis claimed that Delta kicked his family off a flight because his son had lice. 

In that case, Delta didn’t have a policy about lice. Neither, as far as I can tell, does Southwest.

The National Institute of Health, however, says there’s nothing wrong with kids who have lice going to school. The lice simply need to be treated.

Such decisions are, though, made every day by individual airline employees.

Southwest generally has a good reputation for treating people well.

But tell that to the woman dragged off one of its flights this year

Moreover, my worst airline experience this year was with Southwest. 

It only takes one decision, the attitude of one airline employee, to ruin your trip.

Perhaps the family was unlucky that they got an overzealous — or simply overly cautious — gate agent.

Dad, though, says his daughter is upset because she thinks it’s her fault that their Disneyland trip was ruined.

Not exactly a Happy New Year.

Did You Overspend on Christmas? Marketers Target These 5 Human Flaws to Keep You Shopping

Marketers use many different sales tactics to capitalize on holiday sales. They have even created special sales days, where the deals are supposed to be the best.

The holiday buying craze officially kicks off with Black Friday, a sales day focused on in-store retail sales, and Cyber Monday, the e-commerce sales event offering huge deals for online purchases. A third sales event, Small Business Saturday, has also appeared in recent years with a focus on boosting small business purchases in local communities. 

As businesspeople, we want to maximize our holiday sales while offering the best possible deals to our customers. However, as consumers, our agenda may be a little different.

Most people agree that Christmas is about helping people in need, showing those close to you how much you care, and spending time with friends and family. And for many people, the religious significance of Christmas remains of huge importance. However, while it’s clear that the material aspect of the holidays has gained prominence, studies show that excessive gift giving may actually undermine well-being.  

Even so, each holiday season we continue to spend. On average, individuals in the US spend approximately $500 for gifts, food, and decorations over the holiday season.  

Whether you agree with gift giving or not, we should be aware of the marketing tactics companies use to push sales. By understanding our inherent psychological triggers, we can make smarter buying decisions and more fully enjoy the holiday season.

Here are 5 human flaws that marketers play to in order to increase holiday spending.

  1. The Need to Fit in – We are inherently socially conforming and compliant beings. When humans see someone doing something, we assume that it is right. Therefore, if we see everyone around us making large purchases on gifts, we assume this behavior is right for us too. Marketers do their best to make us feel like we need their product to fit in with our friends, family and peers. They also market the material side of the holidays and gift giving as a measure of emotional significance in relationships.
  2. Poor forecasting abilities – Humans struggle to predict the future. Even if we had more of something in the past, we can’t predict that the material good had little effect on our overall happiness. To capitalize on this, marketers constantly show us a new version, or a better model, or a new upgrade on their products. Without the ability to properly forecast, we purchase more, and are forced to continually re-learn through experience.
  3. Looking for social validation – Humans innately want other people to like them. We are extremely social creatures, and a large portion of our happiness revolves around our community and close relationships. The emotional significance of gift giving is utilized especially well by industries selling high priced items like cars, jewelry, and diamonds. These big-ticket gifts have come to represent love and romance, and the pressure to gain social validations through large purchases is increased over the holidays.
  4. Overstimulation – When humans become overwhelmed, or put into a state of stress, we make irrational decisions. The holiday season, with it’s crowded airports, bustling malls, and family tension can make us purchase items we may not originally intend. Marketers play on this human flaw, flooding us with sales clerks, blinking deal signs and endless purchase opportunities.
  5. The scarcity effect – When Humans think an opportunity is limited, they will work harder to be involved. Marketers play on this fear every day with time-sensitive deals, limited productions and holiday product releases.  

It’s important to understand our innate human flaws and be aware that marketers use them to influence our purchasing behaviors. By being educated about this reality, we can more consciously choose how we spend over the holiday season.

The Best Interviews of 2017

One of my favorite things to do is talk with incredibly successful people, regardless of their field. I always learn something, and I’m also reminded that success is never pre-ordained: Instead, success is the result of hard work, persistence, and and doing the right things, over and over again.

In short, success — however you choose to define “success,” because it is a choice — is something we can all achieve.

Here’s a look back at some of my favorite interviews form this year. Unfortunately I could only choose a few, so I took Nigel Tufnel’s advice and made this list go to eleven

1. James Purefoy

Over his nearly 30-year career, James Purefoy has starred in The Following, Rome, the very cool Hap & Leonard, A Knight’s Tale… and as I mention in my new book, The Motivation Myth, is on the list when I play the “What three people would you most like to have dinner with?” game.

Excerpt: “One of the things you learn from being an actor is a highly-developed sense of empathy. You have to be other people all the time, you have to put yourself in that position… and that’s the definition of empathy.

“As an actor you watch how other people react and behave, and you develop a hyper-sense of empathy of what other people go through. You experience it all the time, onscreen or onstage… and I’m very grateful for that. Empathy really is the be-all and end-all of being a person.

“And if I can expand on this, one of the reasons we do this job — or at the very least, why I do this job — is that it makes us all feel less alone. That’s why we go to the theater. That’s why we watch movies. Some of it is to do with spectacle, but also because it can make you think, ‘Oh, I was feeling this. I thought I was the only one. But now I’m watching another person who feels that way…’

“Whether you’re an actor or in an audience, great stories help you realize you’re not alone in the ways you feel. That connects us and makes us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.

“I think that’s how everyone wants to feel.”

Here’s the full interview with James.

2. Tyler Grey

Tyler Grey is Army Ranger who was deployed twice to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq before being badly injured by an explosion in 2005 in Baghdad. He’s a speaker and consultant and was an instructor on The Selection: Special Operations Experiment.

Excerpt: “Discomfort is growth. To constantly improve, and to be more resilient and adaptable, whenever there is a fork in the road, choose discomfort over comfort and you will grow.

We’re used to choosing comfort. We’re used to choosing the easy way. Yet all our success and growth comes from choosing the hardest and least comfortable way.

Say you’re an entrepreneur: you chose the discomfort of giving up a paycheck and starting a company. Every success comes from taking the harder path.

Choose the hard path. Choose something that makes you uncomfortable. If you do that every single day, you will grow every single day.”

Here’s my complete interview with Tyler.

3. Brian Koppelman and David Levien

Love the Showtime series Billions? So do I, for reasons like this.)

Brian Koppelman and David Levien are the co-creators (along with Andrew Ross Sorkin), writers, and executive producers.

Excerpt: “With Billions, we knew this was a strong idea, with a clear point of view, that could be executed very differently from the rest of the market… so we wrote it on spec. We spent four months where we weren’t getting paid to write the first episode in the hope that we could flip the leverage paradigm. Our goal was to be able to say, ‘We have the script and we have the outline for the first season — so if you want it, you have to agree to certain things.’

“The risk was that no one would buy it, but we were willing to take that risk because we really believed in what we were doing.

“Instead of pitching the idea first, we wrote the first episode, sent the script out to a few networks, and then had meetings after they read the script.

“That’s an unconventional approach, but it was an easy decision for us because we believed so strongly in what we wanted to do.”

Here’s my complete interview with Brian and David.

4. Tamara Taylor 

Tamara Taylor starred in Bones and the upcoming series Altered Carbon.

Excerpt: “The key to my perseverance was absolutely loving the craft of acting. I just figured that if I kept doing it, at the very least I would get better at acting. Even if I didn’t become a tremendous success, as long as I knew I was improving and getting better, to me that was success.

“Feeling successful is internal, not external. There’s that Steve Jobs quote that says the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do…and it does require a little bit of “crazy” to say the light is green when the world is telling you the light is red.

“The world tells lots of people the light is red. You have to trust yourself and say, ‘I think the light is green, and I’m going to keep doing this.’ 

“As long as you keep going, you’ll keep getting better. And as you get better, you gain more confidence. That alone is success.”

Here’s my complete interview with Tamara.

5. Tom Payne

Tom Payne has starred in movies like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and The Physician. And oh yeah: He plays Jesus on The Walking Dead

Excerpt: “Lots of people lack the courage of their convictions. If you want to succeed, you have to take the necessary risks and the occasional leap in the dark.

“I never really doubted I could do this. I know that might sound arrogant, but it wasn’t like that. I just had this innate belief: If I keep working and trying, I’ll get there. I’m not really a dreamer, but I do believe you can do anything you want to do and make a success of it.

“Keep in mind, to me ‘get there’ meant ‘make a living.’ I wasn’t thinking about awards or becoming rich. I just wanted to be able to make my living by working as an actor. That was the goal. I really enjoyed acting, and I don’t think a lot of people get the opportunity to do a job they really enjoy.”

​Here’s my complete interview with Tom.

6. Guenther Steiner

Guenther Steiner is the team principal of Haas F1, America’s Formula 1 racing team.

Excerpt:  “As for the people that came from big teams, who came ‘down’ to [our] smaller team, for them it’s actually an ‘up’ because first they could advance their careers. Some people would rather be the head of a mouse than the tail of a cat. (Laughs.)

“Others wanted the chance to show their skills. On a big team, you might be one of 10 people. Here, we had only one: If you do something well, you’re noticed.

“There are lots of great people who want this kind of challenge. They want to get up in the morning and work hard and be creative and have real authority and responsibility… and not just be part of a large group.

“That’s one of the best things about working for a lean organization. If you do a good job, you’re recognized. You matter.”

Here’s my complete interview with Guenther.

7. Zedd

Zedd is a multi-platinum selling, Grammy award-winning, artist, DJ, and producer.

Excerpt: “When you create something great, there’s always room. Headphones are something I need, millions of other people need… and it’s fun to carry my own product around. (Laughs.)

“I’ve never created anything physical, other than merchandise, which is very simple. There were so many things to think about, especially making physical product you’re really specific about. I’m super specific about every single detail of my music — I can tune a snare until it’s perfectly tuned, faded to the perfect length… but when you work on headphones there are so many small details that impact other details. For example, you can plug the cable into the left or the right headphone, which is great… but just having that little hole in the ear pad you’re not plugged into can change the sound in that ear. There’s a tiny difference, but it’s there, and it matters.

“I didn’t know all those little things, and it was fascinating. I would never have learned any of this if I hadn’t decided to give making headphones a try.”

Here’s my complete interview with Zedd.

8. Ato Boldon

Ato Boldon is a four-time Olympic medalist (only three other people–Usain Bolt, Frankie Fredericks, and Carl Lewis–have won as many individual sprint medals), coach, IAAF Ambassador, and track and field and Nascar broadcast analyst.

Excerpt: “Say I told you that you have to drive 100 miles every day. On the 10th day, you would probably want to quit.

“But what if I also told you that on the 90th day, you will find the Hope diamond lying on the side of the road? Now your outlook would totally change — on the 10th day you would be saying, ‘Great! Only 80 more days to go!’

“Approach it that way, and no matter how much effort you put in, it doesn’t feel like work. For me, I welcomed whatever came because it didn’t matter how hard I trained or if I got injured, because I truly believed that at the end of the journey I would win an Olympic medal.

“Always start at the end and work your way backward. But don’t “work your way” backward. Start at the end totally confident in what the end of the destination will be. Then each step you take, small though it may be, will not seem nearly so hard.”

Here’s my complete interview with Ato.

9. Dan Catullo

Dan Catullo is the creator, director, and executive producer of Landmarks Live In Concert, the doc-series that features global superstars performing at monumental locations around the world. (Like Foo Fighters and my personal white whale, Dave Grohl.)

Excerpt: “I originally intended this to be a little show in New York. Now it’s becoming a much bigger thing on a business level with distribution, format licensing… it’s going far beyond what I ever envisioned.

“So many people told us we couldn’t do it, though. The night our Alicia Keys episode aired we had a private party for the core team who were with us the whole way, for family and friends… and 5 minutes into the broadcast I started crying because it occurred to me that it was actually on TV. I wasn’t watching in the edit bay. It was on TV. And then seeing the great reactions on social media…

So many people told us to give up. In the TV business there isn’t much room for new people. Even with all the stuff I’ve done, all the one-off specials… the TV business is not really open to outsiders. Even if you come up with the best thing ever, you still have to earn your space.”

Here’s my complete interview with Don.

10. Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 IndyCar Series championship, won the 2014 Indy 500 — the one event every driver would love to win — and is the most successful active American open-wheel driver, with more race wins than all other American drivers combined.

Excerpt: “Whatever you decide to do, it has to be the center of your world. It has to be the first thing you think about when you wake up, the last thing you think about before you fall asleep, what you think about when you wake up in the middle of the night …

“That degree of passion translates into a drive and work ethic that can give you the opportunity to succeed at doing what you love. While that still doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to succeed, without that level of passion and drive, you definitely won’t.

“Find something you care about so much that it is the center of your professional world. That will give you the drive and work ethic you’ll need to have the opportunity to succeed.”

Here’s my complete interview with Ryan.

11. Steve Aoki

Steve Aoki is a genuine multi-hyphenate. He’s a two-time Grammy-nominated electronic dance music superstar, founded Dim Mak Records, the label that launched acts like The Chainsmokers, Bloc Party, and The Bloody Beetroots. He has his own clothing line, he owns restaurants, he performs over 250 shows a year… and he throws a lot of cakes.)

Excerpt: “Goals are an interesting thing. I try to go one step at a time, because you never know. You can have ideas and visions… but I’ve learned not to be too fixated on a specific goal.

“Goals will change. The most important thing I’ve learned is to make the experience you give an audience or a customer the absolute best you can make it — and that’s hard when you’re too focused on the future. The focus has to be on the present; when the present is great, then you can think about what you’ll do next.”

Here’s my complete interview with Steve.

And here’s a bonus interview (because if Nigel could go to 12, you know he would).

12. Wolfgang Hammer

Wolfgang Hammer is a TV and film veteran who launched House of Cards, was a film executive at Lionsgate and later the co-president of CBS’ feature film division, and is now the driving force behind Super Deluxe, the fastest growing premium entertainment channel targeted at creative youth that has, in less than two years, garnered 2 billion social views and 5 million subscribers.

Excerpt: “Focus is important [but not] where your business model is concerned. There’s a big difference between creative focus and business models.

“Today you’d be foolish to start a company that only makes movies or that only makes television. There is such a huge amount of entertainment being consumed that is not film or television.

“So if you start a creative and entertainment company — because we consider ourselves to be both — why not cover the entire pyramid? When your goal is to reach an audience for whom no screen has primacy, that kind of limited focus on a single business model is not just limiting — it’s possibly lethal.

“Think about it this way. You’re a writer. Would you say to yourself, ‘I only write for magazines?’ If you did, you wouldn’t have a book coming out. (Laughs.) Wouldn’t you want to do books, articles, etc? Then you can decide where your work gets published.

“We take the same perspective: We focus on creativity, and then we focus on the various outlets.

“People who don’t are missing out on new business models.”

Here’s my complete interview with Wolfgang.

Want More Luck in 2018? Follow These 3 Simple Rules

New Year’s Eve is a time to celebrate but also a time to hit the refresh button. We’ve all been there, brimming with optimism at the start of our resolution but then giving up even though fulfilling the resolution would have improved our lives. The latest research shows that by Jan.8, some 25 percent of resolutions have failed and by the time the year ends, less than 10 percent have been fully kept. So how can you create more luck?

The Luck Factor.

We tend to associate luck with superstition or strange forces outside our control. It’s probably time to challenge this outdated way of thinking. Tina Seeling, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures program and author of What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, writes: “Lucky people don’t just pay attention to the world around them and meet interesting individuals -; they also find unusual ways to use and recombine their knowledge and experiences. Most people have remarkable resources at their fingertips, but never figure out how to leverage them. However, lucky people appreciate the value of their knowledge and their network, and tap into their goldmines as needed.” Those who feel lucky report higher levels of motivation and wellbeing, both essential for sustaining performance during tough times. So how do you cultivate your own daily luck? Follow these 3 simple rules.

1. Choose A Lucky Attitude.

In his book The Luck Factor, Researcher Richard Wiseman describes why lucky people tend to share traits that make them luckier than others. This includes the impact of chance opportunities, lucky breaks, and being in the right place at the right time. He says: “My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.” On the flipside he says: “Those who think they’re unlucky should change their outlook and discover how to generate good fortune.” The takeaway is that you can build your make-your-own-luck mindset. 

2. Own Who You Are. 

Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling was rejected more than 130 times before she got noticed. According to legend, one publisher even told her “not to give up the day job.” We know what happened after that. The Harry Potter series became one of the most successful film franchises ever, grossing more than $6 billion. On receiving an honorary degree from Harvard University, Rowling gave a heartfelt commencement speech titled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”. She told the audience: “Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. Failure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.”

The team at Red Bull Stratus is made up of the best brains in science, aerospace, medicine, and engineering. Its vision is to research human extremes and transcend human potential, something all leaders are interested in. On October 14, 2014, the valiant Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner ascended to more than 128,000 feet above New Mexico in a helium balloon before freefalling at supersonic speeds (Mach 1.24) back to earth. His record-breaking jump broke the sound barrier and recorded vital data for scientific and medical research. Baumgartner says: Don’t live life as a spectator. Always examine life. Espouse new ideas. Long for new things, constantly discovering new interests, escaping from boring routines. Engage life with enthusiasm, grasping life aggressively and squeezing from it every drop of excitement, satisfaction, and joy. The key to unleashing life’s potential is attitude.”

 Wake-Up Call.

The truth is if we’re lucky we get to live for around 960 months only, which is just 80 years of age. Luck is a skill that can be developed. It’s about a flexibility of mind and a willingness to listen to your heart and trust your gut. Take advantage of chance occurrences, break the weekly routine, and once in a while have the courage to let go. The world is full of opportunity if you’re prepared to embrace it.

Wishing you a prosperous and lucky 2018!

The Missing Element in Protecting the Environment

Who would expect an insight on how to protect the environment to come from hookworms?

I recently saw Zia Khan, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Vice President of Initiatives and Strategy, speak at the New York Academy of Science‘s Summit on United Nations Strategic Goals. That’s a high-level group of organizations and people.

He didn’t speak on the environment, but the project he worked on showed something missing from climate change work, at least that I don’t see.

He talked about hookworms, hookworm disease, and how a 1909 program nearly eradicated it in the American south. For the details of the disease, it’s enough to know hookworms are a parasite that sap your blood and strength. You don’t want it.

By 1909 we knew how to cure and prevent it. It takes medication, education, and field work. The challenge was implementation. You have to stop people from defecating outdoors, which is how the worms spread, and start wearing shoes, among other changes.

According to Dr. Khan, southerners didn’t immediately welcome northerners telling them what to do shortly after the Civil War. All the medication and education in the world doesn’t help if people don’t trust or believe you. Hence the field work.

What worked then

According to Dr. Kahn,

They recognized that it wasn’t just about medical cures, but also about communities and government.

Southerners initially distrusted these early efforts. Many took offense at what they perceived to be accusations of infection. Regional newspapers initially criticized the efforts. But in just one year public opinion turned in favor of the campaign. Commission staff innovated in their outreach, using demonstrations, illustrated lectures, and some of the very first movie public service announcements. After five years, the campaign was deemed to have been a success and the commission was disbanded. Not only were incidents of hookworm infection greatly reduced, the campaign was also a great contribution to creating public health institutions in many Southern states.

Note the human side to the campaign–a bedside manner beyond the science and facts.

Imagine northern doctors coming down to the southerners just telling them to stop what they were doing, saying that they had all the answers, talking down to them, and disparaging their habits.

Even if they were right and meant well, they would have provoked resistance and likely failed.

What’s missing today

Now look at the protester in the picture above. I don’t know all his environmental positions, but I bet we share similar goals of clean air, land, and water.

But how exactly do I follow his instructions of stopping climate change?

Or consider any nature shows you’ve seen. Did they show some beautiful natural landscape being destroyed or at risk of it? Or the same for some species? And did they fly there to get the footage?

I agree with conservation, but isn’t there an element of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do? Besides, what exactly do I do to prevent landscape loss?

Isn’t there something positive people can do? Where is the bedside manner?

I believe we can apply what worked with hookworm: go to the communities we want to influence, enter their world, and instead of telling them what to do, enter their world.

Act more with empathy and less instruction. Instead of seeking compliance, seek to motivate and inspire.

If scientists and activists want you to drive and fly less, I think they’ll do better by showing that you can enjoy life more driving and flying less. I’ve found living by my environmental values greatly improved my life.

That’s what value means–determining better and worse, which enables you to choose and live a better life.

In this column I’ve shared how much my experiment not flying has improved my life, which I say as someone with family all over and work that I used to think required flying.

Two successful examples

Much environmentalism today is like northerners telling southerners what to do, but not all. Two examples go against that trend, and I believe they will set the tone of what works.

First, the podcast I started last month, Leadership and the Environment, invites top influencers to share their environmental values and live by them–not tell people what to do. Too many people are already telling people what to do.

Guests share their stories of their challenges–their struggles and triumphs. Nearly all share that they wish they had changed earlier. They all faced challenges, but they were glad they did.

When you think of using less energy, buying less stuff, and so on, you probably think of what you’ll miss. These guests, who include luminaries like Dan Pink, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Marshall Goldsmith, show through their behavior what you gain.

Second, Generation 180, a nonprofit that helps people reduce energy waste and consumption, creates tools to help people change their behavior. They go out in the field and work with people who want to change but don’t know how.

I love this video they created. Compared to many protests and people telling people what to do, it reminds me of what Zia Khan said worked in 1909. It speaks the language of the communities it serves. Sure, it’s backed by science and engineering, but effective leadership emerges from empathy with those you want to lead and speaking their language.


I consider efforts that show that what works improves your life and community more effective than telling people what to do or not, or showing damage without a way out.

Science is essential, to guide leadership

Science and engineering are necessary, but when it comes time to lead, use what works, such as empathy, field work, compassion, meeting people where they are, and living consistently by your values, with integrity.

18 Ways to Make Employee Town Halls More Engaging in 2018

If your organization holds employee town hall meetings, chances are you’re already planning your first session of 2018. That’s why it’s a great time to resolve to make next year’s town halls more energetic and engaging.

After all, town halls are a valuable way for employees to hear from leaders, which builds trust and confidence. And town halls share content employees can’t receive anywhere else, which provides valuable learning. Plus, town halls bring people together from various locations and functions, so they create a sense of community.

It’s clear that town halls have the potential to be a dynamic, interactive form of communication. However, too many become data dumps, with senior leaders sharing slide after slide of facts, figures and statistics that employees will forget five minutes after the session is over.

Town halls are such an important part of an effective internal communication program that it’s critical to do them right. Here are 18 ways to improve your next town hall:

  1. Set tangible, specific objectives. Having a clear focus will help you design the town hall to be more purposeful. For example, choose objective like these: “create learning about an issue that’s vital to the organization” or “motivate employees to take action.”
  2. Design every research tool–from post-event surveys to an annual communication audit–to measure how well employees think you’ve achieved your objectives.
  3. Build a story arc. A “story arc” is a term that fiction writers, Broadway playwrights and Hollywood screenwriters use to describe the ups and downs of a narrative. For a town hall, a story arc describes the emotional lows (discussing a serious issue) and highs (celebrating success) that create energy.
  4. Create a “run of show” document that choreographs what will occur and when. Town halls are too important to manage loosely–the best sessions run with military precision. The most important element: every segment starts and ends on time.
  5. Eliminate every piece of information that’s not essential to tell your story. Town halls don’t happen very often, so it’s tempting to want to talk about everything that has happened since the last one. But, there’s a limit to how much information people can process before they suffer from overload.
  6. Limit your agenda to no more than three key topics (yes, only three) and keep the level of detail to a minimum. Fewer, more focused topics will help keep employees interested.
  7. Include financial results only if you bring them to life for employees. Dense charts don’t create understanding. Relate numbers to what the organization needs to work on next.
  8. Go deep instead of covering a wide range of topics. For example, instead of reiterating all seven strategic initiatives, focus on one strategy. Invite an internal expert to explain what it means. Create a breakout session where employees share their perspectives on the issue.
  9. Bring a fresh and unexpected element to every topic. For example, don’t review safety statistics; develop stories about how employees have taken steps to improve workplace safety.
  10. Show video only if it’s very short and action-packed. Ever look around the room when a long, contemplative video is being played? Employees’ eyes literally look glazed over. Video should be no more than two minutes long–and every second needs to be as fast-moving as a Michael Bay movie.
  11. If using PowerPoint, create a lot of slides–with one concept per slide. I’m not sure why the rule for presentations became  “less is better.”  With fewer slides, presenters tend to cram more information in each slide and employees quickly get bored of watching the same slide for minute after minute. By creating lots of slides with one idea per slide, you give employees  something new to look at and keep your deck moving forward, both of which will make for a more engaging presentation.
  12. Change the way the room is arranged. Most of the time, seats are set up theater-style, with chairs in straight rows. The problem is that arrangement sends a signal to people that their role is to observe and listen. We think of concerts, plays, movies, sporting events–all experiences where people aren’t participants, but audience members. If possible, set up round tables, with employees sitting in a semi-circle around one side of each table, facing the leaders.
  13. Put tables (and chairs) close together. As every stand-up comedian knows, wide-open spaces make people stiff. So bring employees in as close to speakers as possible. A little crowding is a good thing.
  14. To encourage employees to participate, take a vote. The safest way for employees to participate is as part of a big group. Use audience response devices or text polling to ask employees their opinions on key issues. If you don’t have access to technology, you can still ask employees to share their viewpoint. The simplest approach? Call for a show of hands.
  15. Instead of calling for questions, coach leaders to pose a question. Even in the most open, supportive culture, it’s risky for employees to expose potential ignorance by asking a question. But if the leader poses a question–like “What are the obstacles to achieving this objective?”–employees have the opportunity to participate from a position of strength.
  16. Allow plenty of time for participation. Most town halls and other leader venues are too heavily weighted toward presentations, leaving only a few minutes at the end for Q&A. Once employees start to watch the clock (“only 10 more minutes”), they’re discouraged from participating. You need enough time to set up the discussion, facilitate dialogue and build momentum. 
  17. Make sure every person has an equal experience. Even if some employees attend in person and others join via web meeting or teleconference, make sure everyone has a chance to participate. Assign a facilitator to manage each remote location–and a partner facilitator who sits in the main location (where the leader is.) The remote facilitator is responsible for collecting employees’ questions and comments–and feeding them to his or her partner facilitator via chat, text or email.
  18. Practice, practice, practice. Especially if you’re trying new techniques, make sure you test everything: seating, tech, transitions, confetti. And, yes, your leaders are busy, but they need to do a quick dry run to make sure they’re comfortable before the show starts.

Every improvement will make your next town hall a more meaningful, memorable experience.

The State of UX in 2018

As we look back on 2017, some pretty great things happened in the field of UX: the number of practitioners has continued to grow, new specialists (like UX writers) have emerged, and the lexicon of interactions has evolved with shrinking interfaces. 

With such an exciting year for UX designers, what can we expect heading into 2018?

A tectonic shift. Here’s why. 

When we think of UX designers, it’s almost always someone responsible for the design of apps and websites. The screen is their medium for engaging our attention, senses, emotions and perception. 

UX might seem like a new thing (the term was invented only a few decades ago), but the design of experiences has been a part of every day life long before the digital age. It isn’t bound to a single medium. Nor is designing for them.

Rather, experiences are spatial or time-based compositions that engage the senses, attention  emotions or perceptions. Limiting what we consider to be an “experience” to only what we see on a screen is, at a minimum, undermining what it means to be human–our experiences extend beyond what Apple, Google, Netflix or Facebook create for our devices.

2018 will be the year that UX designers break from screens as the medium of their craft–creating experiences goes beyond making something “user-friendly” or “easy to use.” 

Rather, with the array of emerging technologies, the design of experiences in 2018 will do what experiences like art, film music and architecture have done for us throughout human history–raise our spirits, improve our well-being and bring us closer together.