In the ad business, staff time away from the office often looks to clients like time away from their projects.  

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Vacation—going to new places and seeing new things, constantly interacting with the world of environments, products, service and people—is often where the big insights are hatched and the big ideas born.

It reminds you that people are all essentially alike and want the same things.

It also reminds you that people are all different with completely different experiences, knowledge levels and frames of reference for everything they encounter.  

Sometimes consumers think they don’t like things because they have never had the opportunity to experience them, and they know nothing about them.  Let’s fact it — the world is a very fascinating place.  People instantly become much more interested in the things they know about.  The surface often seems flat and boring if you know nothing about a topic. Once you scratch the surface, you often find a world of facts and feelings that entice.  

Almost everything has a “culture” that almost everyone can appreciate once they get a deeper glimpse of it.  This thinking is the entire basis behind today’s biggest buzzphrase “content marketing.”

In the recent past, our travels have taken us to some very insight-evoking places:

One of those was a stay at The Verb Hotel in Boston.  For those who don’t know The Verb, it’s a old motel turned hip new hotel in the heart of Boston right next to Fenway Park. Though we’re not supposed to use the word “hipster” — The Verb is all about that.  From the turntable in our hotel room — with a Three Dog Night Album spinning, and an album collection in the lobby to borrow from. To the attached bar with beautiful, precious little sake cups to order, packed in Japan and shipped straight to the Verb — it was eye-opening in a hundred ways from our everyday world.

Another recent revelation was the flagship UNIQLO store on Fifth Avenue, where the endless color combinations remind that there is no signature look these days — just like tattoo art, and unique names (who can forget Lemonjello and Orangejello from Freakanomics), every outfit, every moment is a statement of some kind.

Which brings me to another revelatory experience of note:  last month’s visit to The Rusty Barrel, a beat-up, homey neighborhood tavern in Cleveland, Ohio, where two of every three seats had ripped vinyl with the foam padding sticking out, and where one would never guess from the tattered exterior that there was so much life within.  It was filled with a mix of neighborhood people living within a mile of the tavern, including Trump voters (Ohio, remember?), Browns fans, fashionable young women, and beer-soaked regulars. They all knew each other well, and were a right friendly, jolly lot.  How do we know this?  Because we are the folks you strike up a conversation with strangers just about everywhere we go… just can’t help ourselves.

We came back from all these places with dozens of new ideas for all our projects.

So when your Agency team staff says they are going on vacation, don’t think of it as time away from your projects.   Think of it instead as maybe the best, most productive time spent on your project.  Plan a meeting when they get back to talk about what they saw and how it relates to your business.  Every experience has something to teach us if we’re paying attention.