I keep a digital note on my smartphone that tracks my travelling since 2013. That was the year when I started serious business travelling. It has become a ritual for me to update the note whenever I was on a business trip. The count shows 44 trips since 2013. I am amazed myself at the number of trips but also getting uncomfortable at the rate of my travels – from 7 trips in 2013 to 9 in 2014 and then 15 in 2015. Now just after the half way mark in 2016, I have done 13 trips and with more to come in near future.
Am I travelling too much? That is the first question that appears in my mind. When I was young, I always admire my friends or neighbours who travel on planes. Coming from a humble family, my first flight was during my National Service days when we were flying to Brunei for military training. That was my first flight! I did not travel much in my earlier days of work, at most once a year for a technical conference. But once I am doing my own startup, especially when the business starts to expand globally, the travelling picks up.
Travelling is never easy for me. Many friends from outside would look at me with envy. I can understand fully. I used to be very envious of friends who literally live their lives on the planes. Now for myself, clocking 2 trips per month, I must say travelling is very tiring. It takes me away from my family and home, something I am very reluctant to do. However, for business sake, in Yoda’s term – “Travel I Must“.
Nowadays, I try to keep to a strict regime when I travel and always look for the positive side of things. I set myself a target – 3 important objectives when I travel.
1. I connect.
In doing business, especially international and global business, it is very important for us to connect. For me, a connection is more than just emailing and talking over the phone. A connection is much more than these. For each overseas trip, for each new geographical area that we are venturing into, I spent a tremendous amount of time and energy to understand that particular foreign culture. To me, it is a great chance for me to connect and to connect successfully. I have to understand the culture. I have to know what makes them tick and I have to pay attention to small little things.
I always believe in face-to-face meetings. I feel that in the current digitised world, a lot of communications flow over emails, instant messages, conference calls etc. But nothing beats face-to-face meetings. It is always in face-to-face meetings where we get a real sense of connections. We get to see the other party’s eyes and body language. I would go into what I termed myself “aggressive observation”. I have seen so many times, a younger person only too eager to finish his/her prepared speech or presentation and missed out on all the important cues from the other parties. For me, face-to-face always matters. The eye contact, the firm handshake and the small talks, give me lots of clues. It is important.
Another connection I make would be through the informal events or activities. I am, by nature, an introvert. Today, I still see myself as an introvert. I can’t float around in parties and talk to anyone anytime. I really can’t. In the past, I used to be resistant to informal dinners and lunches. But now, I see these informal events as a means for me to extend my connections. These informal events allow us to talk about almost anything and everything. It is actually through such informal events where we build trust and credibility.
To me, business travel is a means for me to connect. I travel to connect.
2. I read
Having a very busy schedule while I am in Singapore, I have spent less time on reading. Not something that I like. Hence, I took every opportunity to read when I am on the road. During the hours of flight, having a book in hand is an absolute joy. In one recent trip to London, I actually finished an entire book in the 12 hours flight. I felt so “full” with contentment.
For me, business travels allow me to steal time from my schedule to read, something that I always enjoy. And yes, I will always have a book for every trip.
Though I have tried Kindle and iPad eBooks, I am still very much a paper person. Nothing beats the physical book. The touch, the smell and the “no-distraction” mode are what excite me when I read. Allowing all my senses to be involved. I feel the inner peace and hence, a better ability to absorb what I read.
I am not a greedy person. I just hope to learn 5 new things from every book. 5 new things would do 🙂 I believe through reading and actively learning from the books that I read, I will slowly but surely become a better person.
Hence, business travels have allowed me to have a chance to top up my readings and make me a better person.
3. I hear
Travelling means I would have to take taxi whether I am in Singapore or overseas. I find it amazing just listening to the stories of the taxi drivers or the Uber drivers.
Travelling in the U.S., I am a big fan of Uber. I do not rent any car because I want to clear my mind when I am travelling to meetings. I want to keep my mind in tip-top condition when I attend meetings. Renting a car and driving creates additional tasks for my sensory and distracts me. Hence, I’d rather take public transport, taxi or Uber. Whenever I use Uber in the U.S., I always enjoy my chats with the Uber drivers. I never see them as my “driver”, but rather someone who can tell me new stories. Stories like the growing disconnect between Uber and their Uber drivers. Stories of their own hardship or success in a new place. And also their lives in the U.S. So far, I have already met 3 Uber drivers in the U.S. who have lived and worked in Singapore before. Amazing when we started talking about Singapore!
As for taxi drivers, there are always interesting stories. Not stories about complaints about the Government. But stories that touched their personal lives. Once I met a taxi driver who sent me from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. He actually worked as a bus driver in Singapore! He could tell me he stayed in Clementi. He is from Nepal and sharing his family stories made me want to root for him and hope that he succeeds and can return to his family in Nepal.
Taxi drivers have different behaviours. Some open up easily and share more. Some are always quiet. I try to strike conversations and often, I discovered more things. I’m happy to learn new things along the way. I have met a proud father of a daughter who joined the military, lone retiree, retrenched ex-managers and many others. Maybe one day I should write a book about Taxi Driver Stories.
Another interesting place to hear and observe is the lounge. Nowadays, I would head to the lounge so that I can save some time and do some work. That is rather typical for a workaholic like me. Trying to squeeze every free time to work. But in between my work, I do observe and hear discussions in the lounge. As all of us think – the regulars in the lounge have very different fabrics. It is always interesting to hear their conversations. Sometimes I learn a few new things myself!
Business travels have opened up new opportunities for me to connect “lightly” and hear new stories that I would never have heard or seen – New knowledge.
I think it is important for entrepreneurs and even everyone to always look at things from the bright side. Despite the heavy travelling and tiredness post-travelling, I have to constantly encourage myself of some of the good things that I can gain.
I connect, I read and I hear. 3 simple things that will push me.
With best regards,