Another Sign of our Decline?

I grew up in India. One of the realities there was the concept of what we called Indian Standard Time (IST). Everything would happen about 30-45 minutes after it was scheduled. The reason for this was simple. The infrastructure in those days was quite old and one would say a bit decrepit. Old roads. Old rail lines. One airline with old planes. The result of this was breakdowns, malfunctions, mechanical failures of equipment and potholes too numerous to count. The kinds of issue and challenges one accepted of what was considered (in those days) a “third world country”.

When I moved to this wonderful country a couple of decades ago, I was exposed to (as Dan Zajac, my first boss called it) American time. 9 AM meant 9 AM. It was awesome. Everything ran on time. Everyone worked on time. The train from Naperville to Chicago’s Union Station was only late once in a 2 year period. And that got most of the passengers upset. Flights from O’Hare (except on those stormy winter or spring days) were quite regular. The lights on the Expressways came on exactly at 7. Roads got fixed in the Summer so that they were new for most of the year. The reason why we were the “first” country in the entire world.

I’m sure you’ve noticed, but things have changed in the past few years. I travel a lot, so this is based on personal experience. These days, very few flights are on time. It has become such an endemic issue that we just expect it and plan around it. The train from Naperville to Chicago has been late eight of the last ten times I have taken it (not statistically significant, I know). The reasons? Switch failure, mechanical issues, stuck tracks are some. This last winter, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, we had over 10,000 pot holes in the Chicagoland area. Driving around was an adventure, to say the least. These are a few personal examples of the fundamental weakening of our roads, rail and air systems. The fragility of our aging infrastructure.

Is this what we should expect? I have been excited with all the talk in Washington about investing in our infrastructure. That’s exactly what we need. I am totally on board. We need this to ensure that we keep our country in the lead but more importantly, create an environment that is sustainable for the generations to follow.

We need to make sure the trains run on time, the planes fly on schedule and the roads are in good shape. This will allow us to again live on American time while improving our productivity further. Let’s not forget that our emerging competitors are building new roads, rails, airlines and systems. This will give them the advantage in the new global economy. We need to stay competitive. Invest in our roads, rails, and air. Bring new expansive technologies into play. Invest in ourselves to put away the sceptre of any possible decline. And create the opportunity to deliver on our limitless potential.


Categories: about me, Analytics, books, consumer behavior, crm, economic downturn, emotive, future, loyalty, marketing, measurable, segmentation

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11 replies

  1. Agreed on the conditions, but this to me is a behaviour too, maybe a connection with the behaviour theory would add value to your concept of how behaviour influences our acceptance of current norms.

  2. Agree. However, the behavior I am positing is that we actually begin the process of reinvesting in upgrading our infrastructure. By doing so, we have the ability to effect norms and expectations. Make sense?

  3. Agreed that investment is needed. How do we encourage this? I think we are missing the inspiration. Perhaps we need something akin to Kennedy’s mission to get to the moon. Why do we need to improve the infrastructure? What can Americans achieve with a great infrastructure? Has to be more than getting to work on time…

  4. Very good points. We do need to reinvest now to go further in the future. This will require a plan for what assets are most important and should be given priority. Where does the high speed train to O”Hare rank versus the potholes on I-94?

    But my take away here is your piece as a metaphor for Marketing. Too often I see marketers trying to squeeze an extra drop out of an old infrastructure, rather than setting up long term success by creating a new model. Are we better off chasing new customers with the old model, or delivering a better product/service by investing in product delivery or understanding customer needs better? Intended or not, your metaphor makes a good point!

  5. Much bigger issue: Why are the trains,planes and roads problematic more so now ? The PEOPLE who check the roads, ensure the on-time departures are simply not there. Just listen to the surviving employees talking or rather grumbling in any of these circumstances. They don’t seem to be motivated to care. In my own industry, the quickest way to cut expense is to cut people and hours WITHOUT understanding or rather,taking action to change the process. When’s the last time someone did an ROI on whether or not to cut those people who engage the customer or ensure that the customer will not be disappointed. We need more leadership, creativity and rationalization of our businesses.

  6. No question that our infrastructure needs updating. More importantly our attitude toward service needs energizing. If we get the attitude that Disney brings to its infrastructure of making sure that everyone who uses our services (public or private) is treated as a guest, then we will constantly improve not only the hardware (i.e. planes, trains, etc) but with the people responsible for them and who run them. The trains in Switzerland are so accurate that you can set your watch to the schedule and the people who run them take pride in making sure it happens. We have the same problems in many of our stores and services, yet there are those who continue to set the pace with good service, good facilities, and–not coincidentally, good sales. It all starts with leadership who set the standards and insure that everyone buys in to the brand strategy. Our country needs to do the same.

    • Excellent point on leadership Ken, and vision Grant. I agree that a company with strong leadership and a shared vision is more likely to invest in the infrastructure they need in order to achieve that vision.

  7. Fascinating point regarding the relationship between infrastructure and productivity. Perhaps we’ve been so focused on enabling productivity through digital infrastructure such as broadband and the wireless spectrum that we lost sight of the most basic necessities, such as safe roadways and bridges to enable people and operations?

  8. Reinvesting in infrastructure is a good start, but I am concerned that it will just pull us even with other countries? I would like to see a vision that looks at reinvesting in a way that reinvents infrastructure so that we are “first” again. I often drive the many congested Chicago expressways and tell myself “there has got to be a better way”. For a little nostalgia pick up the 1992 movie Singles to see a forward thinking idea to deal with traffic and pollution get squashed. I propose that we take 10% of the reinvestment dollars and allocate them to “Blue Sky Projects” (no bridges in Alaska please) that tests new technologies or methods that may lead to leapfrog events where we are able to move ahead of the status quo. This is not easy, and will require sacrifice and coordination between many entities to accomplish, but it can be done if all buy into the vision.

  9. Not only is the infrastructure of our country noticeably decaying, but since 1980 we’ve added dropped an additional 90 million + people onto and into our roads, trains, and planes. The exponential nature of population growth very well may outpace our ability to re-fortify and expand the aging skeleton of our civilization.

    In today’s economic climate, the vast majority of people are just trying to hang on, to preserve their standard of living and quality of life. Meanwhile the infrastructure that we depend on to funnel us towards productivity is failing, and our government (which was designed to move cautiously) is not able to act quickly enough to keep up w/ the demands our population is putting on the system as a whole.

    I think that in order to begin thriving again we need to look to advances in technology to allow us to bypass much of the transportation infrastructure. We can work remotely, very easily, and very reliably. By doing so, not only are we able to reduce stress on our transportation infrastructure, we’re also able to spend more time with family (less commuting), place less stress on natural resources and the environment, depend more on local distribution of goods and services, which would in turn help small businesses get back up on their feet, and which would ultimately help create a grass roots economic recovery. A bottom-up solution rather than a top-down bail-out.

  10. Ben,

    Good comment. I do agree that we need to use technology and innovations to shrink the gap between the required infrastructure and our needs.


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