As I mentioned in a previous post, I made a road trip recently…and lived to talk about it. Well, a couple weeks after my near-death experience on I-80, Mary and I took another road trip. This time, we drove from Southern California to Door County, WI. Thankfully, our car remained in contact with the road for the entire trip.
Traveling across the country twice in the span of 30 days opened my eyes to many observations on our country, our culture, and our history that are applicable to both business and life (and, with all the restraint I can muster, I will completely refrain from using any Springsteen references to cars, roads, highways, etc – although, it will be hard to avoid using the name, “Mary”).
As we start our trips, Mary and I felt like “we were sprung from cages on Highway 9” (damn, I failed already!). At least we encountered no one “Working on the Highway”, avoided another “Wreck on the Highway”, opted not to “Drive All Night”, and certainly were not going to be “Racing in the Street”. We choose to drive an Audi and a Jeep and not a “Pink Cadillac” from “Cadillac Ranch” while we were “Out in the Street”. Along the way, we found some interesting “Backstreets” which allowed us to avoid a “Long Walk Home”. We saw many a “Highway Patrolman” even when we were in the middle of “Radio Nowhere”. Whew! I am glad we were able to get that out of our system.
So, what does a cross country trip teach us about business and life?
Find a great co-pilot – How many times have you been driving and needed to do something else – change the navigation system, read the map, search for a new radio station, dump the french fries into the opposite side of the Quarter Pounder box, unscrew the top of the soda bottle, search for money for the toll booth…? If so, you know how frustrating it can be to try to do it while you are concentrating on the road.
How many times have you been driving and had an amazing thought, saw an amazing view, engaged in an amazing encounter at a rest stop, and thought, “I wish he/she was here to enjoy this with me?”
Building a business, running a company, raising a family – all are extremely hard work. You will be much better off with a great co-pilot to share the load and lend a hand.
Building a business, running a company, raising a family – all are extremely gratifying experiences. You will be much better off with a great co-pilot to share the joy.
Satellite Radio / GPS / Miles to Empty Are Great Inventions – Driving across the country can be boring and tedious at times. It can also be complex. Having the latest technology is a great gift for making boring, tedious, or complex tasks more efficient and effective. Technology does not replace the human aspect of the trip – the amazing views, the personal encounters in unique roadside stops, the value judgement on how long you can “hold it” before you get off the highway for a rest stop. In business and in life, technology should not replace human beings but, rather, allow human beings to do what they do best – interact with other human beings.
It is a vast country – If I had one overwhelming realization from our trips, it would be the shear enormity of the United States. To all of you on the coasts, do not miss the “fly over states”. They are AMAZING! We should hereby change the name to the “drive through states”. The vast expanse of this country has an effect on you. You realize how small we are in relation to our world. You realize how diverse we are in reality and how much more we have in common (common decency) than we don’t. When holding the door open for me upon entering a gas station during our 13 days on the road (which happened almost every time I entered a station), not one person ever asked my political party affiliation, religious affiliation, sexual preference, or economic status.
To paraphrase Warren Buffet, to be born in the United States of America is to have won “the birth lottery.” We have the honor and privilege of being in the greatest country on the planet – and the vastness of the country underscores this. Anything is possible. Just push your chips into the middle of the table and LET IT RIDE.
There is ALWAYS Construction – Not just on these most recent trips, but every summer trip of any length I have ever taken, there has been construction at some point during the trip. Building a successful business, family, or life requires us to deal with the inevitable construction delays. You can get frustrated. You can get angry at the other drivers. You can look for shortcuts (and, we all know, end up right back behind the Toyota Corolla you were originally behind when you started your shortcut). Or, you can play “I Spy” or “License Plate” or “Alphabet” or, my brother, Mark’s, favorite – “Punch Buggy” (he just liked to hit people).
Business and life is not about avoiding construction delays, it is about dealing with construction delays.
Inspiration is all around you – If you are not inspired after a cross country trip, then you are not alive or looking hard enough. Over 13 days of driving, we encountered…
The Grand Canyon – the single most amazing natural sight I have ever witnessed. It reinforced my faith in a Creator who is infinitely more powerful than me. But, it also inspired me to think big.
Mt Rushmore – besides making me very proud to be an American, it inspired me to think outside the box. Someone looked at the side of a mountain and thought, “I will scale the mountain, set up scaffolding, ropes, pulleys, and levers, and I will carve the faces of the presidents.” Sure. Whatever. Really? If they can tackle that concept, I am sure you can find a way to address whatever roadblock you are facing at work or at home.
Wall Drug – to a sales guy like me, Wall Drug is the single greatest organic growth marketing concept west of “South of the Border” (“Pedro Says…”). If they can get millions of drivers to stop at their rest stop over all the others simply with better marketing, imagine what you can do with better marketing AND a quality product to market.
There’s No Place Like Home – Dorothy said it best. Every restaurant billboard boasts “home cooking”. Every hotel billboard touts “all the comforts of home”. Every gas station promotes their restrooms are as “as clean as home”. Seems to me the thread here is home. As the great Moonlight Graham from Field of Dreams said about his hometown, “Once a place touches your soul, the wind never blows so cold again.” We are all restless. We are all looking for something better. (I know I resemble that comment). The answer is not out there. The answer is right here – this business, this firm, this family, this relationship, this country, this town, this God.
“The Road is long and The Road is hard
Spirit’s willing to take the charge
To damn them all with disregard
And to leave The Road for my backyard”
– Excerpt from “The Road” by Michael Marcon
Michael C. Marcon is the founder and Managing Member of M3K Holdings, Chairman of The Marcon Foundation, founder and former CEO of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.