The economics of running on treadmills have never made sense to me. After running to the very edges of exhaustion, the treadmill screen frankly tells me that I have just burned the the equivalent of 1.75 apples worth of calories. At this point, while sweating profusely, I am generally not that happy with the treadmill screen and think dark thoughts to myself, like “Whaaat? How is this possible?”. At face value, the economics do not add up.
To me, the economics of business travel are like those calories on treadmills. When you look at the constituent parts: cost of travel, time away from family, hassle of travel, time away from “real” work which will continue to accumulate while you are away, the uncertainty of whether you will get the benefit you are hoping for on said trip – the parts don’t seem to add up.
This month, I will have spent 3 weeks on the road: a week travelling around Australia with the Localhost Deployment multi-city speaking tour, and two weeks travelling to Paris for WordCamp Europe. As any fellow Australian knows, that is a lot of time on planes… which I have used to think about the economics of apples, treadmills and business travel. And, I may just have uncovered how it all adds up.
Where does the extra value come from?
In reality, the benefits of that run on the treadmill outweigh the calories burned during the session as the exercise itself changes your metabolism, effectively raising the rate at which your body burns calories for a period after you exercise. In other words, while you start with 1.75 apples, over the next few days you get a whole barrel of apples for free. I think exactly the same thing happens when you travel for business.
For those of us who work in creative fields and peddle ideas, we are all too familiar with the notion that creativity cannot be switched on and off. Sometimes, when you are lucky, you get into a state of flow where bits and pieces magically snap into place in your mind, and creativity happens. We know that this state of creative flow is largely affected by the environment that we work in: in other words, you can affect your levels of creativity by changing your environment. Looking around at the explosion in co-working spaces and Starbucks-home-away-from-home offices around the globe, we know there’s something in this.
Just like water
After a while, however, we get used to the environment that we are in. The things that may have helped us get in the flow-zone, have become just like water. They have lost their effectiveness. (Interestingly, the same thing happens with exercise, and why every now and then it’s important to change up your program).
“You can’t solve problems using the same thinking you used to create them” — Einstein
In order to stimulate creativity, and spark new ideas, it becomes necessary to change one’s environment. A change of environment puts your mind temporarily outside of its comfort zone. Being outside of your comfort zone gives the islands of knowledge that have accumulated in your mind a chance to form fresh and magical connections. The net gain here is quite similar to the barrel of apples that you get after you finish running on the treadmill.
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In addition to sparking and enabling creativity, business travel also has a few bonus benefits that elude those same traditional economics. The value of meeting new people, being exposed to radically different ways of thinking, new ideas, seeing new places and challenging your senses all contribute to making a person feel alive. And feeling alive is for sure a key ingredient in leading a creative life.
In our increasingly connected work lives, it is really easy to become disconnected from the energy and flow that is needed to solve problems with slightly different thinking. Travel, meeting new people, experiencing new ways of being are a great way to re-set the water level. It’s an investment that, just like that barrel of apples, rewards you in unexpected ways long after the travel is over.
A huge thank you to the Localhost team for inviting me on the amazing multi-city-multi-speaker touring extravaganza! In particular, huge kudos to Patima for making the idea of Localhost real, to Corey, Teegan and DT for the many hours that went into putting the road show together, and to Ryan for making us look glamorous in all the photos. Thank you also to the three outstanding speakers I met on the Australian part of my trip: Brett, Glen and Simon. Meanwhile in Paris, I felt like a total fan girl, meeting some truly awesome individuals. Always so much better in the flesh than in a slack thumbnail: Joen, Matias, Tammie, Michael, Dennis, Lucijan, Cyrille, Mel and one of my top professional heroes, John Maeda. I look forward to sharing the barrels of apples ? Oh, and check out Brett’s amazing photoessay of all things that went down on the Localhost!