On the plane ride back from New York, I came across this little gem of a mixed message, so I snapped a picture of it.  Smoking on domestic flights has been banned since the late 80’s, but the ‘resources’ still remain.  Twenty-plus years later, here is a sign explaining to use the ashtray, right above an actual ashtray, right above a sign telling you that smoking is not allowed.

The existentialist part of my brain kicked in and I started wondering what process the airlines took to come to such a mixed message.  Perhaps they just said that it would be cheaper to slap a no-smoking, “Ghost Busters” style sticker on the door rather than remove the original smoking sticker, and replace the ashtray with a dummy insert.  Then I started thinking more diabolically.  Maybe the airlines and the FAA split the fines when people are caught smoking or tampering with the silly smoke detector in the lavatory. Place the picture of a lit cigarette carefully above the temptation of an ashtray might be too much for a smoker to resist.  Heck, I was thinking how cool it would be to have a smoke at 38,000 feet, and I’ve never been a smoker!!  I even got Samuel L. Jackson’s voice stuck in my head saying “Ashtrays on a mother[blog edit] plane!!”  Then I got to thinking of how many times I’ve heard of passengers getting caught smoking on a plane.Since I couldn’t think of one specific incident I’ve ever heard of, my diabolical side gave up and I just decided it was probably just plain laziness and cheapness on behalf of the airline industry that created such a mixed message.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably asking yourself what does ashtrays on a plane have to do with law firms, libraries, technology or anything else I normally write about?  Truth be told… not much. I’m pretty sure that you can think of a number of mixed messages the legal industry (especially large firms) put out.  Such as buying high dollar legal research tools with the hopes of recovering that cost from our clients.  Or, how about the whole idea of putting out annual announcements of revenue and profits with the hopes that clients will be impressed with how much we charge and how large our profit margins are?  Makes my existentialist/diabolical side start wondering if clients are talking about our ‘mixed messages’ in the same way I just describe the airplane lavatory ashtray.  Now that I think about it… I bet they are.