Work is not the same as it was 50 years ago, or even 15 years ago! Flexible work arrangements have thrown the traditional 9 to 5 out the window. In an effort to boost employee morale, productivity and engagement organizations are offering perks from bringing your dog to work to providing places to “play” during the workday. This month at LTAW we are talking about the unconventional in the workplace…which we are sure will someday become the new normal.
Philosopher and theologian St. Augustine once wrote, “The world is like a book, those who do not travel read only one page.” I love this quote. And it fully captures my experience of traveling. Every new place I’ve been and every new person I’ve met, like a great book, has left me a better person than I was before. I’ve left places with new perspectives and left old perspectives in new places. I would not trade my education or any of my mentors for anything in the world, but travel has always been my greatest teacher.
It is striking however that the idea of travel as a teacher has not become a formal concept of organizational leadership training and development. This is especially surprising in diversity and inclusion work where cross-cultural competency is prized as a necessary skill of the new global economy. I share Mark Twain’s sentiments who said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
I’m not saying I think people who travel are not aware of and experience the value of travel, I’m saying more should be done to encourage and operationalize the benefits that come from traveling. So far, it seems that travel is largely thought of as a means to an ends (we travel to get to the business) and that the cultural benefits that come from travel are mostly personal. But if there are tangible professional benefits for traveling, then companies should invest in their traveling employees in ways that fully embrace the best that travel has to offer. Traveling for traveling’s sake. Expanding global markets, and the ensuing boom in international travel, has made thinking about travel in new and more productive ways a new vital skill of business travelers.
There is now initial evidence and research that working and studying abroad are influential factors in producing creativity and fostering skills related to problem solving and innovation. In these studies, students and professionals who have spent considerable time overseas out perform their non-traveling counterparts across several variables. If these initial studies prove to be reliable patterns of travel as creativity building and cross cultural competency enhancing, then organizations can begin implementing programs that encourage traveling that capitalize on the aspects of travel that are most professionally edifying. The hope, at least my hope as an avid traveler, is that business travel can be redeemed from the “means-to-an-end” mentality that often leaves it as an untapped part of professional development.