Discover the profound impact of travel on your business and perspective.
I recently read NIKE founder Phil Knight’s autobiography, Shoe Dog.
A “shoe dog” is explained in the book as somebody who knows all about the shoe industry, and was a term of affection for people who were involved in a new era of shoe sales in the 1970s when NIKE was known by another name, Blue Ribbon Company.
Phil Knight writes eloquently about his travel experiences as a young man. He grew up in Oregon and spent time traveling the world before he really dug into business. He did have the benefit of a Stanford education, and spent time as an accountant with Price Waterhouse while his first shoe company was in its infancy. But before his business career really took off, he traveled to learn and see for himself.
The word entrepreneur is used more liberally today, and too often refers to people who form an LLC and effectively create a job for themselves. In Knight’s case and as told by Knight, what would become NIKE was never a job, and it was never just about finding a way to make money.
Phil Knight didn’t have a lot of money, yet he figured out ways to scrounge it up when needed. His first effort at cobbling together funds for something bigger than himself was in support of his desire to see the world. He borrowed from family and worked part-time to underwrite this initiative. His foray around the world started in Hawaii with a friend; his friend didn’t get further than Hawaii.
Knight traveled without a rigid itinerary. He identified places around the world to see, but it wasn’t a specific schedule. He reflects throughout the book on the formative observations he had gleaned through his early travel.
Learn From Phil Knight and Steve Jobs
While reading Shoe Dog, I was reminded that Steve Jobs underwent a similar form of personal exploration through travel before he really dug into business. Jobs traveled the world spending many months in India, for example, and learned a lot about other ways of doing things—how people reach different levels of development and states of perfection. Walter Isaacson’s award-winning biography and description of Jobs’ search for meaning and higher purpose is well catalogued. Travel in search of meaning was a pillar of who Steve Jobs would become.
Few recall that NIKE and Apple actually went public in the same week in December 1980 at the same initial share price offer ($22 per share). At the time, Apple was viewed as “risky” and NIKE only went public because banks would no longer lend cash in the amounts needed to sustain the business model.
Reading Shoe Dog, I was struck by the concept and impact of travel on the lives of these two men who would become business titans. Reflecting on some of the travel that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience throughout my adult life, by American standards, I am exceptionally well-traveled. I have visited over 60 countries. Many in the military get to visit a lot of different countries throughout their career; few reach a number more than 20, and most military visits amount to drive-byes.
For me, the number is high because much of my travel involved traveling with Congressional delegations. Near the end of my uniformed career, I guided Members of Congress on global itineraries in support of their foreign policy, national security initiatives, and oversight responsibilities. In those trips, I was privileged to witness ministerial activities from a front row seat, visiting places I could never else have imagined. My book, Make Your Move, captures some of that fascinating travel.
I recognize, looking back, that I might not have been as present or as focused while I was in a particular country because I was doing something else to support execution of travel. The visit might have been so short—hours or a weekend—that there really wasn’t time to absorb all the country or the people.
I’ve come to appreciate travel much more as I’ve become older, and I share this as something for you to think about as you set your own business and personal travel agendas. I’ve written previously that when we went into the pandemic, many recognized they were running on what seemed a hamster wheel, going from trade show to event in a continual flow. Slowing down their travel schedules had limited impact on their business initially.Too many are too proud to pronounce, “I spent 120 days on the road last year.” I believe they are chasing the wrong measurement. Click To Tweet
The Profound Impact of Travel on Your Business and Perspective
As we’ve come out of pandemic travel restrictions, many are catching up to their pre-pandemic pace of travel, but without having refocused on what should be newfound purpose. Executing to any plan in a manner or to a plan that worked pre-pandemic completely misses the shifts that have unfolded right in front of us. Labor issues, supply issues, economic factors like inflation, and social shifts within the workforces and our culture—to name just a few. Some have no strategy; others cling to their dated strategy.
We often travel for business with a pretty tight schedule—get into town, meet with either a customer, or colleagues we know at a trade show. Touch and go; in and out. Some people still fly red-eyes to go back and forth across the country. I try to not do those overnight flights because I find them too taxing and not worth the lost energy the next day.
If we have opportunities to spend a little more time being present as opposed to passing through, we might absorb some of the people and places that we see while traveling and simultaneously improve our perspective. In improving our perspective, we improve our focus, our decision making, and most importantly, our impact.
You’ve read this far. “What’s he saying?” you ask.
I’m traveling internationally with family as you read this. I’m loosely keeping up with email and business, but I’m focused on stepping back, learning new things, and refreshing my perspective. Recall the positive aspect of stepping back a bit as the pandemic forced us to shift. That little part of the pandemic was a positive. I am trying quite consciously to not simply resume a pre-pandemic schedule. I hope you’ll follow my example and discover the incredible impact of travel on your business and perspective. Enjoy some travel this summer—and make the most of it!
The Make Your Move podcast is a multi-season series devoted to the lessons learned of military members in their post-active duty lives. I hope you enjoy the stories of the men and women brave enough to share their transition stories so publicly. Listen to the latest episode here.