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Welcome to the Hotel California

October 19, 2020

Brian Wolff

Last month I reintroduced you to fourth grade math (sorry!) and the transitive property where if a=b and b=c, then a=c. Of course, I wasn’t talking about math, I was linking the transitive property to the power of trust and our ability to extend trust through our network, without being in the middle. The fact is that trust is transferable and extendable, which puts parking in a very special place to solve its digital and mobility transformation challenges from within. Now, that’s the conclusion, so let me share with you through how I got there. Remember the Eagles song “Hotel California?” Imagine Don Henley’s rich voice singing “Welcome to the Hotel California.” Good, now that I’ve mellowed you out, let’s take a “walk.”


One of the things I love about Isaiah Mouw’s Parking Podcast is that he always asks his guests how they got into parking. We have ALL been there, “I didn’t plan to get into parking, it was just a gig I was going to do in school or for a short time and X years later, I’m still here.” The guest then goes on to explain the richness of the relationships they’ve built in parking and how parking is so fascinating, which makes it hard to leave. Now you’re getting the Hotel California vibe, right? “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….” 


In fact, I’ll bet you cannot name five people who have left the industry to do something else. Why is that? I think there are several reasons, including inertia and/or the fact that you can make a great living in parking. While that is certainly part of the first stanza of our song, I’m going to argue there are two other important factors that keep us all in this industry: knowledge and relationships. 


On the surface, and from the outside looking in, parking isn’t complicated. You park your car, go to your destination, get back in your car and go home. What could be less complicated than that? Without seeing it, smelling it, touching it and feeling it, outsiders simply cannot comprehend how something so uncomplicated can be so complex. And it is this complexity that makes everyone so valuable to the industry because we’ve all accumulated specialized knowledge that takes time to acquire. Of course, every industry is a bit like that; parking doesn’t have a corner on the market for being the only complex industry. However, parking has special glue.


During my 31-year career, I have been fortunate to work in four different industries: banking, life sciences, technology and parking. I can tell you firsthand, no other industry is as tight-knit as parking. What is also unique is how many people in the industry cut their teeth in one place, and then moved on to do even better work for another parking company. The key is that they didn’t leave the industry and they took their knowledge and relationships with them, thus extending and strengthening the bonds critical to building lasting trust. 


Now, at this point, I need to introduce one more concept to tie it all together and for that, I turn to retired four-star general Stanley A. McChrystal. General McChrystal wrote a book called “Team of Teams” and in it, he describes the challenges of fighting nimble, amorphous terrorism organizations with a military steeped in silos and central command and control. 


General McChrystal knew if he didn’t change the way they were operating in Afghanistan, they would continuously be one (or more) steps behind the terrorists. His approach took years to break down silos between branches and departments, by sharing information more transparently, cross-pollinating people and teams to accelerate learning and to build trust across all disciplines engaged in the war on terror. 


The result was that decisions were made more quickly, teams learned to trust each other and, through the transitive property, others, with whom they had not worked, to ultimately build a more nimble, smart and effective team of teams. The key ingredients that fueled success were the same ingredients I’ve asserted are special to parking: knowledge, relationships and trust.


You see, we already have much of what we need to evolve and transform our industry because we have a group of people that know each other, trust each other and have the skills and knowledge needed. In essence, we’ve built a team of teams. The missing link is the collaboration across teams. It’s happening in dribs and drabs, but I think we can take it to the next level. 


Our customers demand a better parking experience, and the pandemic has shown us that despite being stuck in Hotel California, there is no passage back to the place we were before. “Relax said the night man, we are programmed to receive,” so since we can’t leave, let’s endeavor to work closer together to transform the industry into “a nice surprise” for our guests!



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