Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Where is the civility?

Somehow, I think we have forgotten a level of civility.

This has been quite a year of travel for me. I just returned from Korea and now I am in Ireland. In the past three weeks, I have flown about three-fourths of the way around the world -- but in two legs going different directions,.

Yesterday's flight from Chicago to Dublin on American Airlines was a marked contrast from the flight two weeks ago from Seoul to San Francisco on Asiana Airline. Class, of course, counted. On Asiana I was pampered in business class and in American I flew coach. But I had considerable crossover in both -- wandering back to coach on Asiana and sitting just behind the business/first class seats on American.

It wasn't just the better food or the hot towels the cabin attendants chop-sticked to us on Asiana. The whole plane has an aura of civility that just wasn't there on American. The American Airlines crew did an adequate job -- but it was like driving a durable Chevy pickup instead of a sleek Lexus sedan.

I realized, part way across the Atlantic, that my whole American flight was designed for efficiency and minimum wear and tear on the crew. The Korean counterpart, however, was focused almost exclusively on the experience of the consumer. I also noticed that a few years ago when I flew on Singapore Air.

We likely have the same issue in most industries -- certainly in newspapers. In our business, we publish as much or more for ourselves as for the "readers." We seldom simply ask readers what would make them happy -- and even more seldom respond to their reply.

Perhaps we have simply forgotten the joy of civility. I don't think we teach students in any profession the skills to please. We focus instead on the skills to perform. Taken alone, neither will bring success. But the flaw of having one without the other is all too obvious.

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