Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.
—Frank Borman, retired NASA astronaut.
The other day while checking out new books at Barnes and Noble, I came across the story of how a young Howard Schultz, the current CEO of Starbucks, was inspired by a trip he took to Italy that would change his life completely and change the restaurant business.
In 1981 Schultz was a twenty-eight-year-old director of marketing for Starbucks and in Milan, Italy, on a buying trip. He noticed that not only did the ubiquitous coffee shops there make great espresso, but they also served as local meeting places. These shops were the hubs of the community. Schultz’s Italian excursion and the rich experiences he had at those small coffee shops would serve as the model for his aggressive overhaul and growth strategy. We all know the amazing end to this story. Starbucks is now the largest coffeehouse company in the world, with over 19,500 stores in over fifty countries.
This story is just one that proves the benefits of getting outside of your comfort zone, but for many people this is easier said than done. Too often, entrepreneurs operate solely within the confines of their industries. They socialize with the same type of people, go to the same kinds of places, eat the same foods, visit the same websites, read the same books, and speak the same lingo. Or it could be that entrepreneurs are focused on their businesses so much that they don’t take time to do something totally unrelated to what they usually do. Immerse yourself in your industry and focus on it, but step away once in a while, too. If you don’t, you could be missing out on a monumental, inspirational moment that takes your business to global heights.
Whenever you have the chance to travel, do so. International travel is great, but inspiration can also come from a day trip to another city in your own state or country. Seeing how people do things in a different environment sparks creativity. For example, when visiting Peachtree City here in Georgia, I was amazed to find that the city is designed for residents to drive golf carts everywhere. There is not much need for a car. Small bridges going over main streets and customized paths were built for golf carts. I even saw a mother with her baby hitched to the golf cart in the backseat. I am not sure what business could come from that but I was at least inspired to move there. I thought it was pretty cool.
Stepping outside of your immediate box, whether it’s your office or home, also helps to foster inspiration. If I am stumped or experience some sort of a mental block, I step outside my office to take a walk or do an activity that engages another part of my brain or body. A college professor suggested this technique years ago when I was a computer science major. I didn’t believe that it worked until I tried it. Whenever I reached a mental block while programming, I would take a break and change my surroundings. Almost magically, a solution to my problem would come to me. As a result, I now use this basic technique frequently to overcome any type of creative breakdown or obstacle.
While the focus has been on changing your scenery for inspiration, exploring new activities is just as important and effective. I have expanded my leisure activities to things I normally would not do, such as learning to speak Chinese, reading classic English literature, and listening to different types of music, like country and Hindi. Ideas for my business now come from the most extraneous experiences. Without making a conscious effort to seek such new things, I doubt these inspirations would have come.
It’s hard to believe that a chance trip to Italy brought us Starbucks as we know it today. There isn’t a major city on planet Earth that doesn’t have a Starbucks. Had Schultz not made that famous trip, who knows where millions of people would buy their coffee in the morning and meet to form a start-up? The evidence is in the coffee, so to speak.
Placing yourself in new environments and exploring new things enables you to apply those experiences to other facets of life. You become a synthesizer, a skill that, honed properly, could be the key to your next big opportunity in business.