A degree alone does not guarantee career success


Image from Daily Mail UK

 …in order to succeed in life post degree, a scholar needs a much broader range of skills…

Today, the acquisition of a degree, even a higher degree such as a Masters or Doctorate, is no longer enough to guarantee career success. In fact, according to many recent media accounts, pursuing a higher degree has been cast as a waste of time.

As a society, we collectively benefit from the investment made by each scholar in pursuing an education. Education has been, and always will be, the key weapon that we have against prejudice, ignorance, hatred and war.  Unfortunately, the global trend is towards reducing, rather than increasing, the amount of higher education pursued by each individual.

A major cause for the decreasing popularity of higher education is the perceived negative return on the time and cost of such degrees. Potential scholars feel that after completing their degree, they will emerge without the skills required to guarantee career success. For the most part, they are correct.

Historically, education institutions have been in the market of teaching scholars a specific set of skills. The range of skills taught actually decreases as the rank of the degree increases. In order to complete a Doctorate, for example, scholars are trained to attain world-class competency in a (necessarily) narrow skill set. The issue is, of course, than in order to succeed in life post degree, a scholar needs a much broader range of skills. Unfortunately, the teaching of these broader skills lies outside of the curriculum of most tertiary institutions.

In response to this need, I launched a new eBook (and tries of workshops) late last year. You can find more info about the project here: The book is free for personal use… if you enjoy it, please share it 🙂




Passenger Experience

The airport retail trap


As cost pressures grip airlines, the way into wallets is via longer wait times and the allure of high-end shops, fine dining and exclusive lounge clubs…

According to Anna Harrison, “In the near future, most passengers will be air-travel natives…The inexperienced, novice traveller will become a creature relegated to the pages of human history.”

“Air-travel natives will be increasingly interested in efficient passage through the passenger terminal. As passengers gain proficiency, they will become less and less tolerant of queuing and waiting. Air-travel natives will be decreasingly interested in engaging in the airport experience offerings.”

For airports, the risk is over-investing in retail.

Humans won’t let their hours be fodder for airport bottom lines for ever. Peak dwell time may not be far away.

Extract from Your time and money: the airport retail trap by Jason Murphy

Passenger Experience

Guest experience lessons from paradise


This week marks the end of our Australian summer, as demarcated by the end of one school year and the start of another. Before settling in to the more regular rhythm of life between summers, I’m going to start 2014 with informal reflections on my experience as a guest in paradise…

For me, the summer was bookended by what I assumed would be two very similar experiences: a dive trip to Heron Island and another to Lady Elliot Island. The two islands are located at the southernmost end of the Great Barrier Reef. Both islands are entirely made of coral, surrounded by never-ending horizons of every shade of blue, and home to some of the most spectacular marine life on the planet. The islands offer “basic” accommodations – the real hero of the vacation is the diving and snorkelling. Despite the luxury price tag, it is rare to find guests who are disappointed at the lack of fine thread Egyptian cottons or other creature comforts.

In spite of the similarities between the islands, my reflective experience of the two resorts is completely different. As I contemplate the potential reasons for the differences, I am drawn to one main factor: experiential inconsistency. For me, and judging from the conversations with other guests (an occupational hazard for an experience researcher!), it appears that inconsistencies in the “intimacy” with which guest touchpoints are delivered can adversely affect guest satisfaction.

As a first example, consider the first island touchpoint: the guest welcome. On one island, guests are greeted by staff and welcomed with cocktails at the common room overlooking a pristine lagoon of crystal clear water. The staff provide a basic brief of the island (snorkel safely, take care not to damage the reef), and show guests to their rooms. The process is friendly and efficient, but not overly intimate. On the second island, guests are greeted by the dazzling captain of the island (think fantasy island), and led to a common room that brings back distant memories of high school refectories. In this largely unromantic setting, guests are served a cocktail and forced to sign a legal disclaimer (snorkel safely, take care not to damage the reef). The starkness of the formal act of signing legal documents, when contrasted with the very intimate captain’s greeting presents as a experiential contradiction: …why am I signing disclaimers on fantasy island?

The above example is representative of a host of such experiential inconsistencies at the two resorts. The interesting thing to note is that although the resort facilities are not the reason for guests choosing the island, they are ultimately the source of all dissatisfaction for guests. More specifically, it is not the facilities themselves, but rather inconsistencies in the workflows associated with guest processing that provide the major source of guest angst.

Bearing in mind that these observations are based on my personal reflections and informal chats with guests at the two resorts, it appears that the introduction of a more consistent set of guest workflows would greatly improve the guest experience at both islands. As a start…

  • Provide a consistent level of “intimacy” as this sets the scene for guest expectations. For example, a personal captain’s welcome suggest a more intimate and informal setting… charging the guest for hot water to make tea in the dining room, or making them sign legal disclaimers sends an inconsistent and confusing message.
  • Ensure the “basic” level of service is adequate. For example, although guests do not expect the Taj Mahal, a holiday priced at the luxury end of the market implicitly suggests a base level of services such as clean dishes in the buffet stack, shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom and tea and coffee facilities which are “free” (in the context of an all-inclusive holiday).
  • Empower guests to do what makes them happy. For the types of people who holiday at these resorts, their key focus is the dive. However, what elevates the dive experience is the ability to share the adventures with others. Interestingly, neither resort made it easy for divers to share their stories and GoPro footage with other guests. This is a simple thing to implement, and one that would have significant impact on guest satisfaction.
  • Ensure that the physical layout reflects the resort’s business model. For example, at one of the islands there is a physical separation between the dining options that are included in the daily rate, versus those that are extra. This physical separation clearly sets guest expectations: when they are in the dining room, everything is included in their daily rate; when they are at the bar the bill is charged to their room.
  • Consider the guest experience on bad weather days. The only certainty when it comes to weather is that there will be days when the weather is not conducive to diving. It is important to consider the guest workflows on days like this too: can the guests relax in a common area that affords them a view of the wild weather over the lagoon? Is the common area conducive to guests sharing stories? This is particularly important in the context of day-trippers who are unlucky enough to arrive in sub-optimal weather conditions.
  • Ensure that the experience on sites like Tripadvisor is consistent with the resort’s vibe. As an example, a quick review of recent responses from the “Management” of both resorts presents a very formal and corporate tone. This corporate tone is quite disconnected from the ambiance on the islands, and quite likely accounts for some of the mis-aligned expectations that guests report in their port-trip reviews. Setting the right tone when responding to guest reviews is a missed opportunity to impact future guest satisfaction.

The above workflow corrections can all be achieved without any major capital expenditure investment… these are short term “cherry pickings” that could significantly impact the guest experience (which of course, will directly impact future business). On a personal level, it would be great if these workflow issues were resolved before the next Australian summer rolls around… as I would much rather not choose between the two islands 🙂

Sources: this post is based on my personal experiences at Heron Island (December 2013) and Lady Elliot Island (January 2014), and also on informal conversations with guests during my stay. The travel was privately funded. The theory behind guest (passenger) expectations is based on my PhD work in the area (Principles of Experience Design), to be published June 2014.

Passenger Experience

Cloudy, with a chance of data


Resolving the data ownership and sharing issues is necessary… to support the future passenger experience… to realize efficiency in processing … to foster successful retail engagement. As an industry, we should look towards developing global aviation data standards and a distributed, cloud based delivery infrastructure.

The “Airport Terminal of the Future” has been an important topic of discussion at aviation industry conferences in the last few years. Most recently, there has been a convergence of ideas regarding what the future passenger experience will be like. This convergence of stakeholder viewpoints can be attributed to several key trends, including:

  1. The maturation and accessibility of technologies.
  2. A shared need to reduce the cost and time associated with processing passengers through terminal buildings.
  3. A growth in the number of passengers travelling by air each year.

In this talk (AviationIT, London), I present an example of what the future passenger experience will look like. The example represents a consolidation of industry perspectives and research in the field. (PDF slides: AviationIT-AnnaHarrisonBLOG)

By looking at the problem of future travel from the perspective of an instantiated example, two of the key data integration components that need to be addressed before the vision of seamless travel can become a reality come to light:

  1. Data formatting, and
  2. Data ownership.

Resolving both formatting and data sharing issues is necessary in order to integrate data from various underlying data sources. This in turn is critical to providing the seamless future travel experience.

Passenger Experience

Terminal Schizophrenia


Today, just about every airport has as their mandate to be the “best”. But what does this actually mean? Does it even make sense for every passenger terminal to strive to be shinier, bigger, faster and offer more retail opportunities than the next?

In the race to be the best, airport terminals are slowly developing a case of “terminal schizophrenia”. In this state confusion, terminal buildings are trying to be everything to everyone… and instead risk being not enough to too many. Take, for example, the concurrent strategies of retail expansion and automation:

“The trend towards automation and streamlining the core passenger journey is reducing pre-departure time requirements, and therefore potentially cutting passenger spend in the airport… passengers say they will be willing to spend even more time and money in the airport if airports can provide inspiring leisure options and a competitive, enticing retail offering.”

Reinventing the Airport Ecosystem, Amadeus

These strategies suggest that the terminal be designed for passengers to spend less time in the building (automation), while necessitating that they spend more time in the building (retail expansion). These inconsistent goals often result in confusion, as is exemplified in many terminals right now: like me, you have probably disembarked from a long flight, feeling like nothing but a shower but instead being directed to enjoy an “ambient shopping experience”. Naturally, there is a place and time for this design strategy, however, it is not applicable in all airport situations. Just like passengers, airport terminals have distinct personalities.

 Passenger Terminal Personality Types

  1. The In & Out Commuter Terminal. The In & Out terminal services commuters primarily travelling on short-haul flights. The passengers at these airports travel with little, or no, checked baggage and are usually not accompanied by wavers (non-travelling companions). Passengers travelling from an In & Out terminal suffer mild consequences if they miss their flight as another one is likely to depart in an hour or so. The In & Out terminal sees passengers at their freshest. For these terminals, speed is a primary focus: IATA’s vision of fast travel is most realizable at an In & Out terminal, as are various self-service automation solutions. Other than “grab and go” style eateries, shopping is generally misplaced at the In & Out terminal.
  2. The Long Haul O&D Terminal. The Long Haul Origin and Destination terminal sees off and welcomes passengers travelling on longer haul flights (7hours+). Most international flights from Australia fall into this category. Passengers usually have checked-baggage, and are more anxious about missing their flight, as there may not be another for a day or longer. The Long Haul O&D terminal sees passengers at their most anxious and exhausted. For these terminals, speed is not as critical as for the In & Out terminal as passengers generally allocate longer airport dwell times (the risk of missing an outbound flight from Australia has much more severe consequences than missing a flight between London and Paris, for example). Friendly service and sit down food outlets have a higher priority at these terminals, both due to longer flight times and the presence of wavers. For logistical reasons, extended shopping facilities are also misplaced at this terminal, as passengers will need to carry anything they purchase during the remainder of their flight, which may include a transfer at another airport terminal.
  3. The Transfer Super-Terminal. The transfer super terminal is the blingy brother: water slides, amusement parks, shopping malls, rainforest experiences… these belong in the Transfer Super-Terminal. This terminal sees a captive audience of bored passengers looking for ways to fill time. Passengers are not accompanied by wavers, and usually have multiple hours between flights. Services that alleviate boredom and exhaustion (showers, massages, pedicures) and various entertainment options (music, movies, swimming pools) are best placed at these terminals*. Shopping serves as an interesting distraction, the major obstacle to converting browsing to spend being the inconvenience of carrying purchases on board and onwards at the destination airport. This of course could be resolved by providing gate-check in facilities for shopping, however, I have not seen this offered in a hub terminal to date. The main challenge for the Super terminals lies in managing the wayfinding issues as terminals become physically monstrous in size.
  4. The City Life Terminal. The City Life terminal is both an airport and a major transport hub for the city. Busses, trains, and other modes of transport are all co-located at the City Life terminal, making the terminal a place that is frequented by both air-travellers and local commuters. This type of terminal generally exists in European cities, as these tend to have the most well developed pubic transport infrastructures.  As the City Life terminal services commuters and air-passengers, the provision of extensive landside “shopping mall” facilities is a natural choice. The challenge for these terminals is to manage the landside/airside split for passengers: as most of the attractions are located landside, and there is a higher chance that travellers are accompanied by wavers, there is motivation for passengers to spend most of their time landside. Automation and fast processing is therefore important for the City Life terminal.

Thinking of passenger terminals in terms of their distinct personalities may lead to healthier, less confused buildings… and ultimately, happier and more satisfied passengers.

* Changi Virgins series of videos on YouTube provides a comedic take on the facilities on offer at many Super Terminals.