The introvert’s secret to meeting new people

Meeting new people: watching crowds

Why stand back from others when you can join them…on your own terms?

My dinner at The Beirut restaurant in Toledo, Ohio was delicious and entertaining, but also something more. It was a reminder that meeting new people on trips – even business trips – is one of the best parts of travel. People make trips because people are filled with stories. They provide insights into the place that you can glean in no other way.

They are also unpredictable. I can go to Rome and pretty much count on the Colosseum being at least close to what I’ve seen in photos. But I never know what I’ll learn or what great adventures might unfold when I meet someone new.

But what do you do if you’re an introvert and meeting new people feels awkward at best?

I can speak to this because I too am an introvert. I love being with people but then, I hit a point where my energy drops like a fumbled set of car keys. Extroverts, on the other hand, can’t get enough of others: The more people, the more energy. So here’s the introvert’s secret to meeting new people: Take advantage of an extrovert’s desire to engage.

You see, there are more of them (extroverts) than there are of us (introverts) – twice as many, actually. Thus, when you encounter a new person on a trip, your odds are good that he or she will be willing to carry the lion’s share of the conversation. All you have to do is start off with a few introductory questions or remarks and then listen. They’ll likely do the rest. It’s like conversational jujitsu: Use your “opponent’s” strength to your advantage.

With the couple we met in Toledo, once I got the party started with just a few words of welcome and introduction, the husband took over from there. Was I tired afterwards? Yep. Was it worth it? Double yep.

Keep in mind, if you are painfully shy, just saying hello to a stranger can be tough. But it really doesn’t take much. In this case, I merely asked if the couple needed help finding an extra bar stool since initially, only one was available for the two of them. A single question led to another and another and…

All you have to do is be polite (it’s a bit rare these days). Look for an excuse to ask them something or simply say hello. See how they react. If you get a chilly response, let it go. But if you’ve lucked into an outgoing type, feed them a few more questions and then see what happens.

I know this sounds incredibly basic, but I see it all the time on business trips, especially with solo travelers and particularly when the lone traveler is female: the traveler turns inward and never reaches out to others. Clearly, you have to use discretion. But too often we introverts forego truly meaningful encounters because we think a) it will take too much effort, b) we’d rather read the back of the menu, check status updates or messages on our phones or do anything that avoids human contact, c) we don’t know how to engage in a way that doesn’t seem embarrassing, or d) the person near us looks borderline psychopathic or like a salesperson on the road with too many drinks and not enough company.

If point b) is your issue, remind yourself of how meaningful it can be to engage someone new. You never know what you’ll discover. If point d) is your issue, OK, you’re off the hook. Time to find a new seat. But if point c) concerns you, remember this: You’ll likely never see that person again. You’re far from home and a stranger. Plus, how hard is it to ask a question? What do you have to lose? Look on the possible conversation as practice and remind yourself of just how rewarding and interesting people can be.

And speaking of interesting, don’t worry about being that yourself. As the sales manager of a client’s company once told me, he instructs all his sales people to “Be more interested than interesting.” Listen to others rather than talk about yourself. Inquire. Encourage. Learn the art of asking good questions. Receive. The sale’s manager’s advice is good for anyone, extrovert or introvert. Because when you listen, you do learn more about a place (and all the associated people, ideas and insights) than you ever imagined.

Even someplace like Toledo. It never would have made my list of vacation destinations. But now, if a person were to tell me I should go there, I think I would listen to them.

 

Toledo, extroverts and travel

Extroverts and travel - The Beirut bar

View from the bar at The Beirut restaurant in Toledo, OH

Ever watch any of the popular travel videos? If you do, you’d get the impression that travel is the domain of the extrovert. Extroverts and travel just seem to go together. There’s one guide yakking it up with a local merchant. Or another sharing insights with a group of other tourists. And wait! There’s yet another ingratiating herself with a group of men playing backgammon on the street. They make it seem as if meeting strangers is as easy as ordering fast food.

And perhaps it is. Unless, of course, you’re an introvert.

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Toledo, Ohio isn’t someplace I’d likely visit on a vacation. But on a recent work trip to there, I discovered much more than I anticipated. The city itself has an interesting feel. Although its’s been through a lot (it’s only an hour drive south of Detroit and shares that city’s manufacturing highs and lows), there seemed to be a sense of guarded optimism, a refusal to let terms like “rust belt” define it.

After a long day of meetings on this trip, my colleague Josh and I decided to expand our search for a dinner location beyond the Sonic and Bob Evans near our hotel. We went online, read some reviews, found a well-rated restaurant, The Beirut, and were soon on our way there for some Lebanese cuisine.

The parking lot was full and the place was packed – on a Tuesday evening. Good sign. The hostess asked if we wanted to wait at the bar. We followed her to two of the remaining three seats there. A moment later, she informed us that the wait would be longer than planned, but if we liked, we could order and eat there at the bar. That worked fine for us.

Sammy, the bartender (and I suspect, co-owner) quipped with us as we ordered what turned out to be an exceptionally tasty dinner, in my case, succulent pieces of steak on a bed of amazingly good hummus.

Shortly after our food arrived, a couple squeezed in at the bar beside us, the wife taking the remaining bar stool, the husband standing. We began chatting: dinner or drink? Just drinks…tonight. They normally come for dinner on Thursdays. Where you from? Locals. You? Seattle. The husband soon took over and led the conversation.

Josh and I had already felt at home there. But soon, we were like regulars. With minimal prompting on our part, we learned from the couple about the state of the auto industry, about their trips to Europe and Asia, about their son who had once played in a band and traveled the country and about how the actor Jamie Farr (whose character Klinger on the old MASH TV series hailed from Toledo) still does charity work in the area.

As I finished my meal, Sammy asked if I liked it. I held up the plate and commented that I would have licked it if I’d thought I could have gotten away with it. Everyone laughed and Sammy informed me that it would have been completely acceptable. Somehow, with all the good cheer and camaraderie evidenced here, I believed him.

Eventually, we had to leave. But as we started to get up, the husband continued talking, telling us of all sorts of places to see there in Toledo. Behind him, his wife gestured with her hand in a sockless sock-puppet fashion silently mouthing, “Talk, talk, talk.” I sensed this was a familiar, but loving, routine.

Finally, between our movement toward the door and his wife’s now more vocal imploring, we made it out but not before we were invited to go sailing with them if we were ever back there on a weekend. After all, they reminded us, we could find them there every Thursday.

*******

That evening taught me a great deal. Not only about Toledo, but also about how even introverts can gain unique insights into a place through the words and stories of others. But how, if you’re an introvert, do you do this? Find out next time when we explore more about how to get the most from travel, even if you’re not the most extroverted person.

 

Design is…

Design is…what, exactly?

The question of what design is may not be one that keeps you up at night. But it is one that matters. As we move more and more into what author Daniel Pink refers to in his book, A Whole New Mind as the “Conceptual Age” (which follows the Agricultural, Industrial and Information Ages) we’re all affected by design. And when I say “design” I’m not referring simply to graphic design or aesthetic functions.

To better understand what design is, take a look at the following graphic. It’s from Warren Berger’s excellent (but quirkily titled – I can never remember it when trying to tell others) book on the subject, CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People.

Design is from CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People

As the above definitions show, design:

  • is hard to nail down,
  • applies to problem solving and planning, not just art-related work,
  • is something that all of us can do.

Let me comment on just three of my favorite definitions and look at how these apply to travel.

Design is “The art of making something better, beautifully.

Joe Duffy’s definition contains two key components: better and beautiful. Great design improves the function or use of something. But it can also improve the overall experience. With travel, we can “design” our trips by making decisions to choose wise risk over playing it safe, to stay present when everything inside us wants to shut down due to too much newness or to seek out what is beautiful even in places that, on the surface, may not seem that way.

Design is “The introduction of intention into human affairs.”

Michael Glaser’s definition reminds us that our best experiences – even the ones that seem accidental – usually involve some form of intentionality. For example, once when traveling on my own in Switzerland, I met a young man on a train who ended up inviting me to stay with his family for several days in the Interlaken region. I could never have planned on meeting him but I was intentional about being open to connecting with everyone I met on that train. And because of that mindset, that led to a conversation that led to an invitation that led to an amazing weekend with a local family.

Design is “Hope made visible.”

Brian Collins’ definition captures well the aspirational nature of good design. Great designers don’t focus only on function or even aesthetics. They seek to make the world better, one product, service or experience at a time. Our travel can do the same when we focus our trips on what we can do for, and bring to, others. “Hope made visible,” however, isn’t limited to just what we do on a trip or even to design.

It’s a great definition for travel itself.

 

The aftermath of a hard trip

The aftermath of a hard trip: crabsLast week’s business trip to the Midwest was a hard trip. A marathon of meetings and then post-meeting follow-up making for 16-17 hour workdays in a time zone enough hours from normal to make sleep intermittent at best. It was a week where fatigue accumulates like pooled water after a storm and all your reserves start looking for reserves before you’re even half way through.

The aftermath of a hard trip - Seattle buildings

Looking up in and around the Market has its rewards

I got home Friday evening, spent time with my family and then melted into bed. I awoke the next morning on East Coast time (my body being no respecter of clocks): earlier than I wanted but thankful for the opportunity to wrap up some remaining work. Then, at 7:30 a.m., I drove back to the airport though not this time as a traveler. I was there to drop my son off for his flight back to college.

After that, I wanted to go home. Go back to bed. Relax. Get away from travel. But something compelled me to head in a different direction.

Place Pigalle and Pigeons

I rarely look out the back side of the Market, but if you do, this is what you might see

So, on a very foggy Saturday morning I drove instead to downtown Seattle. I needed a new roller bag. I wasn’t the only one who’d had a hard trip: my old, faithful 14-year-old piece of luggage longed for retirement. The retractable pull handle had given out as I boarded my outbound flight. The handle now extended like credit to someone who never pays their bills. In addition, the bag’s rollers barely lived up to their name. They made getting through the airport as quick and graceful as walking a cat on a leash.

The aftermath of a hard trip: salmonBut it was barely 8:00 a.m. and stores didn’t open till 10:00 a.m. What to do? Play tourist. Don’t ask me why, but despite my fatigue I headed up to one of the city’s biggest visitor destinations, Pike Place Market.

Normally, if I go to the Market, I do so to buy something or take photos or show it off to a visiting friend. But this day I was too tired to do anything more than wander. The place I was in mentally and emotionally allowed me to see the place I was in physically in a new way. To take in the Market on its own terms, not mine.

And that made all the difference.

The aftermath of a hard trip: cauliflowerI enjoyed the Market in a way I never have before. I noticed details like these odd cauliflower spike balls or the the merged scents of the place as if I’d never experienced the Market before. I was simply content to be there with none of the usual travel expectations and as a result, I discovered something new.

The aftermath of a hard trip: TulipsAfter a really long, hard trip, I experienced a gift: a reminder of why I love to travel. My road-weary fatigue allowed me to let go of the litany of usual tasks and attitudes I normally carry with me when I explore somewhere. Like how a hot shower relaxes you to be able to focus on a single thought, my exhaustion quieted down all the usual voices that tell me I need to somehow take advantage of visiting a place. To capture it all. Note it. Make sense of it.

Instead, I simply enjoyed it. Nothing more, nothing less. It was one of the best travel experiences I’ve had lately in part because it was never intended to be a travel experience. I was able to be present to that place because another place, a difficult trip, had broken me open to be open.

The aftermath of a hard trip: Dried flowersFriday night I was grumbling about a hard trip and a hard week.

Saturday morning, I was immeasurably grateful for both.

 

 

 

 

 

Creators and innovators: a meaningful trip – Part 2

Creators, innovators and a meaningful trip: San Clemente Pier

Creators and innovators: The announcement

“Congratulations! You have been selected as a finalist in the 2015 Creators and Innovators Upcycle Contest…” The words in the email to my son Connor began a series of events that led to one of the shortest, yet most meaningful trips I can remember.

Vissla, the surf clothing company sponsoring the competition, requested all the finalists ship their boards to an art gallery in San Clemente, CA where they would be put on display. In addition, Vissla invited all the finalists to attend the show opening at the gallery during which time the winners would be announced.

Vissla covered the cost of shipping the board and a hotel room for the night of the event. But Connor still had to fly down there and somehow make it to the event. I could tell this was a big deal to Connor. And since his 18th birthday was coming up right before the event, we decided to splurge.

Creators and innovators: The trip

Creators, innovators and meaningful travel: Nomad Hotel

Our room at the Nomad Hotel where Connor is going through his goodie bag from Vissla

Thus, in early October, Connor and I landed in San Diego, picked up a rental car, tooled around San Diego, had lunch out on Coronado Island, then leisurely made our way up the coast to San Clemente.

There, we checked in to the wonderful, funky, surf-themed Nomad Hotel that Vissla had arranged. On one of the beds was a bag filled with Vissla clothing and gear, all in Connor’s size. From there, we drove down to the San Clemente pier, looked around then arrived at the gallery as the opening was starting.

Creators and innovators: The event

I could write a book on the conversations that evening, but let me focus here simply on the highlights:

We met with the team from Vissla, all of whom were wonderful, welcoming and so glad we could be there.

Paul photographing Dane's board

Paul photographing Dane’s board

Vissla’s story itself is fascinating. Founded by Paul who was previously head of all the North and South American operations for Billabong, the company primarily produces surf clothing. But Paul, a former pro surfer, has a passion for “Creators and Innovators.” He honors not just those who practice the art of riding waves but also those who create the boards and equipment needed to do so.

This whole competition surprised everyone at Vissla in its popularity. Being the first time they’d done this, Vissla expected a few entries from locals. Instead, they had hundreds from all over the world.

What made the evening so fascinating was that wonderful phenomena that occurs when people of passion come together. The gallery was packed, spilling onto the sidewalk with a wide array of people, all connected by a love of the sport.

Gallery view

This is a view of the gallery from the sidewalk that ended up overflowing with people from the opening.

As we met and spoke with each of the finalists, it was clear that no one really cared who won. Everyone was just glad to be there and to share ideas with each other. Each contestant was genuinely interested in everyone else’s entry, from the functional board made of cardboard and Paper Mache (and covered in fiberglass) to the fins made from recycled plastic bottle caps melted and reformed into objects of beauty. By the end of the evening, Connor and the others were all figuring out ways to connect and work on new projects after the event.

Connor's board

Connor’s board in the longboard mode hanging in the gallery.

Eventually, a team of judges made their determinations and they announced the winners. First place went to Dane from Australia for a board that used the inner core from old doors but combined with foam and fiberglass in such a way as to be a work of art.

Second place went to a guy from Japan who made this amazing board from recycled Styrofoam cartons used in that country for transporting raw fish.

Third place went to…Connor! For that, he won one of Vissla’s cool wetsuits. Everyone agreed Connor had one of the most original ideas. They loved that even the wheels on his board were made from pallet material. They especially liked how detailed his user’s manual was. “Ikea could learn a thing or two from you,” was a common refrain that evening.

Later that evening, Vissla approached Connor and offered to buy his board for their corporate art collection. He eventually agreed to sell them the board. He plans on using the money to fund his start-up company making other kinds of long boards and surf t-shirt designs.

Creators and innovators: The takeaway

To me, a conversation I had with the board designer/shaper Donald Brinks epitomized the evening. Donnie and I got to talking about creativity and the design process and how everything is connected. How you learn something in a seemingly unrelated area, and it sparks an idea that would seem completely unconnected but makes total sense once you put the two together.

Creators, innovators and meaningful trips - Connor, Dane and Eric

Connor (left), Dane (center) and Eric from Vissla.

He commented on how you know a surfboard is right when you pick it up. I likened it to choosing a guitar. You can’t explain why, but you just know it is the right one by the way it feels or sounds or some other inexplicable factor. All the “data” you’ve spent a lifetime collecting suddenly connects in that moment and you know beyond doubt that this is the right one.

That’s the way this evening – this whole trip – felt. A vast array of interests and unlikely connections came together and worked in ways that amazed Connor and me because they were so unexpected and yet, so perfect.

In all, the entire trip was just over 24 hours. But it is one that will likely last a lifetime.

 

If you haven’t done so yet, you can read Part 1 here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creators, innovators and a meaningful trip – Part 1

The meaning of a trip is not measured by distance or duration. The true significance of a meaningful trip lies in the difference it makes in your life long after you return.

*******

The contest was simple: for any and all creators and innovators, create an object made from recycled materials that could be used to ride a wave. Vissla, the surf apparel company sponsoring the contest, provided a deadline, a vague reference to prizes and some brief guidelines regarding posting your submission on Instagram. That was all they stated.

That was all my son Connor, 17, needed.

So began the journey.

*******

Some trips are discrete entities in themselves. They have a clear beginning and end. You go, you come back. End of story.

Other journeys consist of multiple ventures, a collection of small trips we may not even think of as being part of a larger narrative until later when we look back and realize the inter-connectedness of the adventure.

Connor’s journey began not with a meaningful trip but with a series of short forays into an industrial park a 15-minute drive from our home. His objective: obtain a number of wooden pallets that could be foraged to produce a small surfboard, a paipo to be precise, more like a wooden version of a Boogie Board. He found the appropriate pallets, dissected them, harvested the best parts and created a small wonder.

A meaningful trip: The Octo as a longboardNot content to make a common paipo, Connor spent weeks working out the details for an innovative approach to his board. His vision was a surf and turf affair: A longboard complete with wooden wheels and trucks (the supporting pieces that hold the axels) which converted to a paipo. Ride it to the beach, pop off the wheels, unfold the top, tighten the bolts and out into the waves you go. Brilliant. At least in theory.

The second small trip occurred when Connor needed to test out his creation and video it for the Creators and Innovators competition submission. We live in the Seattle area. And yes, you can surf in the Seattle area. You just need to wait for a large container ship to sail down the Puget Sound so you catch the waves of its wake. Seriously. Some people do that. For the rest of us, we head a few hours south and west to the Pacific Coast.

A meaningful trip: Connor and the Octo in paipo modeOn the morning the day before the contest submission was due, Connor headed out to the beach with me in tow (after all, he needed a cameraman to record his test). We didn’t get far before the math set in: This was a Friday. I had a conference call at 2:00 p.m. Given a later departure than planned, we’d have about 25 minutes once we arrived at the beach for Connor to don his wetsuit, put together the longboard, ride and video that, convert it to the paipo and then video him surfing on it. Not enough time we realized. Enter Plan B.

Instead of the ocean, we headed to a beach on the Puget Sound less than a half hour from home. Connor got his wetsuit on, assembled the board and then – Action! I videoed as he rode the board about 20 feet in the beach parking lot and then…snap. One of his wooden trucks broke. Thankfully, we had enough video for the submission (and Connor later made a design change to improve the truck). I then filmed him walking to the beach, converting the longboard into a paipo and heading out into the water.

The problem was, the Puget Sound makes a great harbor precisely because it rarely gets large waves. No worries. I filmed Connor as he paddled and splashed furiously in the water. It may not work as a scene from Endless Summer but it was enough. We had what we needed.

He edited the footage and made the submission in time. You can see the more detailed version of his video below. “Octo,” by the way, is the name he gave it based on the octopus graphic he created for the board.

And then he waited.

Until the day he received an email.

To be continued…