Spend enough time on the road, and your instinct takes over. Soldiers would liken it to their training kicking in. unlike the warriors who protect our way of life, the business traveler’s reflex isn’t intentional. Rather, it evolves from experience and is honed by habit. After a while, you’re “always on” … which is what you want. When a networking opportunity arises – or you get the chance to pick up some competitive intelligence – you want to be ready to pounce.
A friend of mine was headed to Washington, D.C. a few years ago and invited me to tag along. I was involved with a small consulting company at that point and was between projects (which is code for: “I needed one”), so I dashed off with him for a few days. Taking advantage of the status I had with Hilton, I got us a suite on the club level, where we dropped our bags before heading to the lounge.
Again, I had no business plans for this jaunt. But, one of the other people in the lounge atop the Hilton Embassy Row turned to me and asked those four fecund words: “What do you do?” Forgetting my friend, I went from elevator pitch to the intricacies of my company’s style to a friendly game of “mine is bigger” (confession: his was) – standard fare among itinerant white collar folk. It ended with the swapping of cards, though we never spoke to each other again (and knew that we wouldn’t).It didn’t matter that the effort would lead to nothing – I’d suspected the outcome from the start, and I’m sure he did, too. I wound up in character because I couldn’t help it. This one-time trip offered little potential, but my response was driven by years of making connections. If I’d been on a long-term project, I might have seen the guy again in the lounge the next week. Maybe some business would have come from it.
And, my case is not unique. My mentor from an early consulting job once cut himself off mid-sentence when he heard someone at another table mention a competitor’s name. He listened intently for a few minutes before continuing with what he was saying. On planes, of course, we all talk, poke and prod to find a new client or get a sense of what the competition is up to.
The frequent business traveler, after a while, surrenders to the job – sometimes to a caricature of it. It’s only recognized as an occupational hazard years after you’ve given up the life, usually. Until then, it’s like a heartbeat – something the mind-body duality does for you.