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Privacy and Pampering at Cruising Altitude

In the fall of 1999, when adding an e or a .com to your company name was all it took to become an overnight success and we were all spending giddily at the behest of sock puppets, I was on a plane to New Orleans on business and I happened to find myself promoted to first class. I’m not boasting. It’s the only time I’ve ever flown on the swell side of the curtain, and the upgrade afforded me an experience that turned out to be a valuable lesson in privacy—and in the importance of being aware of surroundings.

Among the lucky passengers luxuriating with me in the enveloping comfort of leather and leg room was a team of marketing executives who worked for one of the two largest parcel delivery services. As soon as the captain had announced we’d reached cruising altitude, this team sprang into action, pushing aside a brace of complementary cocktails to gather around the laptop computer that the alpha-dog had opened atop his tray table.

I was cozied in the aisle seat across and one position behind them. When the in-flight masseuse removed the hot towel draped across my face to commence a deep muscle manipulation on my taut shoulders I realized that I had a perfect view of their computer screen and, when I wasn’t groaning in tension-releasing delight, I could hear every word spoken in the impromptu strategy meeting that was unfolding before me.

Despite being distracted by a Brazilian cabin boy’s tempting offer of a deliciously seasoned assortment of fire roasted wild game, I could tell that, for the team in front of me, the journey was not as enjoyable. One page of their PowerPoint (Really? In first class? How gauche.) showed a graph with a big red arrow pointing in a decidedly downward direction. The next page displayed a pie chart with a thin, harsh crimson sliver entitled “Us” and the remainder a pleasant Kelly green entitled “Them.”

They mumbled clichéd phrases like “we’ve lost first-mover advantage” and “it’s time to take a 30,000 foot view” and “we need to go after low-hanging fruit.” And when my pampered ears could take no more of their philistine grunting, I called for the steward to pour me a snifter of 25 year old Laphroaig, neat, and allowed the gently smoky liquid to languish on the back of my tongue as a buxom, Cuban señora hand-rolled a double corona, placed it gently between my lips, and struck a match.

Meditating in the aromatic cloud that enveloped me, I could not believe my great good fortune, plotted my next move, then dialed my phone.

“Reginald? It’s Mike. I need you to sell my entire position in [Company X]. Yes, I know, but I’ve just been made privy to some information that suggests a change in their fortunes. Liquidate every share. In fact, I want out of Apple, too. I don’t see much more upside. Where to? Pets.com. Oh, to the devil with you and your tulip bulbs, Reginald. I’ve seen the future.”

Wait… there was supposed to be a lesson in here about privacy, wasn’t there?

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