My good friend, a bamboo farmer in North Carolina, went on a morning run recently and by the time he got back, he realized he wanted to go to Taiwan. He flew out the next day. Asheville to O’Hare to Shanghai to Taoyuan International in Taipei. A 30 hour commute.
The bamboo industry, I’ve since learned, is booming in Taiwan, where the plant is an environmentally friendly alternative to products made from plastic or other materials. And while there has been much written about how a good run can clear the mind; even make you feel like a brand new person, this post isn’t about a runner’s high. It’s about a traveler’s high. Ironically, a traveler’s high inspired by a few runners.
I recently finished Shoe Dog, a memoir by the founder of NIKE, Phil Knight. He got his start as a member of the track team at the University of Oregon, but really began to mature as an entrepreneur after a trip around the world in 1962. The passion with which he writes about his international travels really stuck with me, moreso than the business lessons one can learn from Nike’s tremendous ascent.
I’ve been curious about world geography since I was a kid. My grandparents were born in Europe, my mother in the U.S., my father in the Middle East. I moved from Israel to the U.S. as a kid. I collect maps. A vivid memory of my childhood was sitting at the kitchen table with my brother and sister waiting for dinner to be served (my favorite was chicken schnitzel) and reading our world capitals placemats. My preferred MS-DOS computer game in the early ’90s was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? We started off each game as “gumshoes” (rookie detectives). The more experience we acquired, the more we advanced up the ladder from our gumshoe status to investigator, detective, or super sleuth.
And Shoe Dog reminded me about the power of the gumshoe. The power of the curious international explorer. One who sets out humbly to acquire new perspective, new knowledge.
Knight visited Asia frequently in Nike’s formative years, and every time he came back from a trip abroad, he brought with him some inspiration, knowledge, self-clarity. For Knight, the progress was both personal and professional.
In comparison with other developed nations, Americans don’t travel abroad that much. Part of it surely has to do with our woeful vacation policies, workaholic culture, and geography/expense.
We’re missing out on the humility of being the gumshoe.
On her first trip to Israel over a decade ago, my then girlfriend (and now wife) landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv after a 12 hour journey and joined the long passport control queue. When it was finally her turn to get her passport stamped, she was “welcomed” to the country by a blunt border agent who told her, “Your last name, ‘Musika,’ is quite beautiful. Your first name, Jennifer, not so much.” Welcome to Israel. Israelis love the hashtag #nofilter. They’re honest. Perhaps rude. But at least sincere. There is no better “welcome to Israel,” than that interaction. You can’t get that cultural context from your Duolingo mobile app.
Every day we are living our autobiography, whether we write it out like Phil Knight did or not. And we can’t fill our pages without curiosity and adventure. We can’t advance from gumshoe status without venturing into the real world and scuffing our sneakers a bit, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel at first.
So, if you’re a manager, encourage your people to embrace their gumshoe status. Regardless of budget, there are always travel deals to be had. Bamboo factories in Taiwan to visit, surfing trips in Nicaragua to take, Shanghai hotels to experience, Moroccan leather handbags to acquire, and border agents in the Middle East to be rebuffed by.
We’ll come back a bit more seasoned, a bit more inspired, and a bit more humble. Gumshoe graduates.