9 Leadership Lessons From My Summer Vacation
I just returned from 10 days traveling aboard an RV through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons with my family. It was an off-the-grid trip that recharged my batteries and gave me enjoyable, quality time with my wife and kids. This time off also led to several breakthrough business ideas and lessons that I thought I would share with you.
1. Rip-off and duplicate.
R & D is a widely-used term in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Instead of the traditional meaning of research and development, it stands for rip-off and duplicate. The idea is that, rather than trying to figure it all out on your own or reinvent the wheel—which many entrepreneurs are known to do—it’s better to find process and best practices that have proven successful (and unsuccessful), and then modify them to fit your needs and circumstances.
This is exactly what my wife did while planning our Wyoming trip. She collected itineraries from several friends who had taken the same trip before and learned what they liked and what they regretted doing/not doing. By adapting their experiences for our trip, we saved a lot of time and were able to pack in many wonderful adventures.
2. Don’t overlook the backyard.
A few months ago, while on a flight, my daughter met a mother and daughter from Australia who had been traveling the world for six months. In her conversations with them, they shared that their favorite place was Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. This is not the first time we’ve heard this. I’m continuously surprised how many families we’ve met from Asia and Europe on this trip whom have traveled so far to get here. We overlooked Wyoming in favor of places further away, more exotic.
In looking forward and seeking the new, we often overlook or take for granted the things that are in our own backyards, be it places, people or experiences. For example, we might conduct a nationwide search for a new employee while overlooking an existing team member from within our organization who might be a perfect fit for the role.
3. Use your built-in camera.
The human eye is estimated to have the equivalent of about 480 megapixels, far more than any camera we use. Too often we don’t take advantage of this built-in super HD camera and rely instead on technology to watch key life events. We worry more about preserving the moment than enjoying it, ultimately taking more videos and pictures than we will ever be able to watch or enjoy.
Deeply engrained memories are created by engaging all of our senses. Create organic memories.
I’ll admit, I took a lot of videos and pictures during this trip and got my share of “Dad, not another picture” groans. Upon reflection, the most memorable moments of the trip were often when I just enjoyed it. This included our early morning encounter with a herd of bison crossing the road, and witnessing a solar eclipse, magnificent experiences which no camera could truly capture. Deeply engrained memories are created by engaging all of our senses. Create organic memories.
4. Follow the herd.
Sometimes crowds do know best. On a few poorly marked tourist sites, we decided to follow the crowd and it led us where we needed to go. Of course, this should be done with caution. There were times when we saw a bunch of people pulled over on the road with binoculars and glasses. When we asked them what there was to see, they said they had pulled over because they saw everyone else had pulled over. Blindly following without asking the right questions can lead you astray.
Living with four other people in 200 square feet of space for 10 days offered some important perspectives. First, I was reminded that happiness is not connected to material goods. Having less things (clothes, toys, gadgets, cars, shoes, bags, etc.) can be very liberating, especially as we traveled each day with all of our possessions. Along our journey, we met many people who had sold their homes and belongings and were now happily living in their RVs. They were fully mobile and enjoying life to the fullest. Although I didn’t bring that many clothes, I could have brought even less and been fine.
6. Constraints improve creativity.
Having constraints (space, money, etc.) forces you to be much more creative in solving problems and finding solutions, rather than just throwing money or resources at a problem. For example, we used duct tape and bungee cords in myriad ways.
One highlight of the trip was when we made an ice cream cookie pie in a frying pan over an open fire that has become a family tradition. We also got creative about recycling and waste, which you don’t think about until you travel with your trash.
7. Over-scheduling is overrated.
Somehow, we have come to associate being busy as being better. We spend our weekends running from activity to activity and have a hard time saying no—something we often carry over into our vacations. I’m guilty of this. I try to pack in way too much in a short amount of time; I over-schedule and then regret it.
Often the desire to see and do everything ends up diluting the overall experience.
With only 10 days to enjoy two of the most captivating parts of the U.S., we knew we needed some sort of plan—especially because we were traveling with kids. Although we scheduled hikes, swims and other fun excursions, some of the best moments of the trip were the unplanned ones. This included the kids playing cards on my son’s birthday while looking for bears at sunrise on the side of the road; roasting s’mores; and playing “do you remember” from past vacations.
Often the desire to see and do everything ends up diluting the overall experience. We have since cut back on some activities this fall so that we can dedicate more of our weekends to family time instead of divide and conquer time.
8. Dare to delegate.
This entire trip would not have been possible had I not coordinated with team members, delegated my responsibilities and created processes and escalation paths that others could follow in my absence. For the very first time, I made the decision to walk away from my email completely while on vacation. I even removed work email from my phone.
Making and acting on the decision to truly unplug forced me to create long-overdue delegation processes. Was it a perfect process? No. But one should never expect a new process to be. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Now I know what worked and what didn’t, so I can improve the process for next time. One thing that this email-unplugging experiment definitely did was allow me to see the value of permanently changing how I interact with my email moving forward.
This was my first real digital detox. As with any detox, I experienced some withdrawal for the first day or two, but it subsided quickly by the third day. It helped that most of Yellowstone doesn’t have cellphone coverage, so there wasn’t an opportunity to cheat; nor did I want to. It was a welcome change.
There is a real fear that our technology has become an addiction and that our brains crave the dopamine in the same away as other stimulants. Without the constant distraction, I was able to read and write more attentively. It was also nice to focus on and engage with my kids, play games and simply enjoy each other’s company.
A vacation away from the job is a great time to think more creatively and contemplate strategically about the future of your business. I highly recommend it.
Related: 5 Tips for Entrepreneurial Success
Excerpted with permission from Friday Forward.