Well, that didn’t take long. Any notion that I may have escaped my absolutely horrendous travel karma went up in smoke (not literally, thank god) on the tail end of my very first Denver based travel late Friday afternoon. Before I get to the explanation, I’ll pause here and note that I’m on United 1421 from Denver to Las Vegas this evening, so you still have time to switch your flight so as not to be on the same plane as me.
Moving on, the first leg of my trip, as previously noted, went swimmingly. The second was delayed by about an hour, but for me that pretty much counts as on time. Maybe even early. Friday, however, was a cruel reminder that it doesn’t matter a whit where I’m flying from or to. I can get delayed/stuck/stranded anywhere, at anytime.
The flight was Alaskan Airlines from Seattle to Denver, and I fell asleep pretty much right after boarding at 2:15 PM. When I woke up at 3:15, we were still on the ground. In traveler’s terms, this is described as “not good.” Any announcements, I asked the guy next to me? Not yet. About 15 minutes later, we were informed via megaphone  that we were being held because of a “warning light.” About 20 of four they “fixed” the warning light and we took off buyoed by a small cheer from several passengers. We then flew for about 45 minutes, when the same light and a couple of its friends made a return visit. So the pilots made a u-turn, and we headed back to Seattle. To make a long story short, they got us a new plane (the one pictured is the first plane) and we took off from Seattle a bit after 6, which got me home about 4 hours late. To their credit, the other passengers on the flight did not degenerate into the scream-at-the-poor-employee-manning-the-gate scenario all too common in such situations.
So fours plus hours late, I arrive back home, tired, worn out from a long week, and I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself as I pour a tall drink. Then I check my mobile’s voicemail. Turns out my colleague, who’d been with me in Seattle, was not only stranded but looking at getting home on Sunday (he ultimately straggled in on Sat, I understand). All of a sudden, four hours sounded pretty good, but this experience seems to indicate that my travel luck is at least somewhat transmissible. I’m not sure what the vector is yet, but frequent travelers are advised to steer clear of me at all costs.
But anyway, the point of this post was not to inflict on you the same frustration I endured on Friday, but rather to make a point about last week’s sessions. With a few exceptions, the most common comment I received over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was “Please don’t blog this,” so I’ll have to be a bit general in my comments. One quick side note: there were several separate instances when I began rehashing a point made previously in this space, only to be cut off with a “I know, I read that.” This is at once disconcerting and very gratifying. While this is an interesting point vis a vis blogs and their relative importance, however, it’s not what I wanted to chat about. Instead, I’d like to specifically call out the very constructive attitudes witnessed both from Microsoft and Sun during my chats with both last week.
A major part of what analysts provide to vendors – and enterprises as well – is the benefit of outsidership (yes, I made that word up). In other words, we can often say and write things that internal employees can’t or won’t because of the inevitable politics, differences of opinions, etc that are instrinsic to just about every large organization on the planet, software or otherwise. Unfortunately, as it’s a function of human nature, the ability to receive in rational fashion highly critical information is not universal, shall we say. Some individuals are open to this sort of constructive feedback, and some are…well…less so. Socrates, you remember, made a career of running around telling everyone what was wrong with them, and ended up on the wrong side of a Hemlock health shake. 
I’m very pleased to say, however, that with virtually no exceptions, both vendors exhibited precisely the kind of open attitude that makes working with them a pleasure, not a chore. It’s easy when everyone agrees, but when you’re telling a vendor something they really don’t want to hear, and they process it thoughtfully, push back on weaknesses in your argument, but generally have the ability to agree to disagree, all I can say is that it makes things not only easier but far more productive. Kudos to all the folks I spoke with (who are too numerous to list here, and further I’m not sure who I can mention and who I can’t).
Ultimately, I think the ability to have these sorts of constructive, but often at odds conversations, is dependent on two things: perspective, and mutual respect. It’s not really about common ground, I don’t think, or how often you agree – conflict is very often a good thing. It’s more about your ability to put any conversation into perspective (i.e. remove the emotional components) and your respect for the other party. If either one’s in jeopardy, you’re likely to be in for a long day. Gladwell’s Blink, in fact, details the role that respect plays in the future viability of marriages, and the same principle’s at work.
One last example of this. Earlier this week, IBM’s Bob Sutor gave a very kind link to this space. Why is this significant? Well, because while I have a great deal of respect for Bob, he’s right: we often don’t agree. There are things we see eye to eye on, and areas where we differ greatly. But the conversation isn’t measured on that basis, on how often we agree; instead it’s measured on the quality of the dialogue, and I certainly value Bob’s opinions even if I don’t agree with them because a.) he’s a very smart guy and b.) has access to a lot of information that I don’t.
So there you have it: constructive relationships = Aretha Franklin. Who knew? Will be checking in with you during the next two days of the Rational Conference (and remember, other attendees, drop me a line if you want to meet up).
 It’s remarkable that in all my travel woes, I’ve never actually had this happen before, but on Friday not only were there more substantial problems with our plane, but the PA system apparently took the day off. As a result, all communication with passengers was via megaphone, through which the flight attendants voices were highly successfully transformed into reasonable facsimiles of the parents in Charlie Brown (WHAAAA WHA WHA, WHA WAHHHH WAHHH WAHHHH).
 Please note that I’m not comparing RedMonk’s work to that of Socrates. For one thing, we’re far more constructive that he ever was