A man in his 70’s wiped tears from his eyes as our production team handed “Oklahoma Symbols” coloring books and crayons to nearby kids...
It was 2015 and we were in Turkey surrounded by hundreds of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. As our interpreter explained, the man was overcome with emotion by our simple gesture…he saw for the first time someone cared.
There really is something life-changing about exploration; going to uncertain places, seeing new things, interacting with different people. But how exactly does exploration open new vistas? By observing Trifecta’s staff, I discovered an important ingredient in our corporate culture’s secret sauce…and it can work anywhere.
Let’s start in India.
Our employee Katie Roberts, who oversees advertising accounts for Trifecta (and had never been anywhere outside the continental United States), found herself in a town square in Ahmedabad, India at a dance festival where she became one of the star attractions. She was there on an entrepreneurial exchange through the U.S. State Department. As part of this program, Trifecta previously hosted entrepreneurs from India, and now we were sending Katie there to return the favor. Through the course of two weeks, she encountered exotic foods (some of which didn’t settle well), explored ancient temples, met community change-makers over tea and children in the street. She truly came into her own as a world citizen, comfortable with her own version of “parts unknown.”
This is important for part two.
A dear friend of Katie announced he was getting married and wanted her to attend the wedding…in Lebanon. This meant flying (by herself) on an international flight with multiple transfers to a country best known as a war zone just ten years earlier and a country surrounded by pockets of terrorist activity. Katie will tell you this was a stretch for her. But after spending two weeks in India, what was a jaunt to Lebanon? It too turned out to be life changing with sights, sounds, and experiences unlike anything she’d ever seen; or most anyone from America has ever seen.
It gets even more interesting in Bangladesh.
That’s where Trifecta’s President Armand McCoy found himself several years ago, surrounded by a massive production crew orchestrating a video shoot for a garment manufacturer passionate about changing the status quo. This was Armand’s third visit to the capital city of Dhaka. Most people haven't even been there once. The previous visits were through the same State Department program mentioned earlier. By the third visit, Armand had created an entire network of friends and business associates, literally half-way around the world. Even the manufacturing client was a friendship established through a previous trip.
Keep following the thread.
The resulting Bangladesh video caught the attention of a different Trifecta client who connected us with the Dialogue Institute of Oklahoma. We joined them a year later to document a diplomatic trip to Turkey, which later led to production work for NBA Player Ennes Kanter (but that’s for a different blog post). These travels opened the door to yet another client with international reach, needing a video shot in Barcelona, Spain. In a three year span, Trifecta staff traveled to Bangladesh, India, Turkey, and Spain for client-related projects. That doesn’t count the places we went merely for our own wanderlust—from Ireland to Lebanon to Macedonia to Canada to Sweden.
The real question is why?
Why would a corporate culture tolerate that kind of travel schedule?
As the CEO, the source can be traced back to a trip I took in high school as a student ambassador to the Soviet Union. It opened my eyes to the big wide world and led to a passion for exploration and the value it bears. I was determined to insert this value into my company’s culture by providing time and resources for voracious travel. It doesn’t come without sacrifice; people cover for each other, work a bit longer hours to catch up, do a lot of juggling. But in the end, what our explorations bring to the table far outweigh the deterrents. Our staff has a cumulative experience spanning the globe, with a network of connections for which the sun never sets. When your job demands daily creativity and the formulation of new things from disparate ideas, it’s essential to have a deep well to draw from.
But even employees whose work doesn’t require world-wide travels can benefit from a culture of exploration. Such a work culture can bring fulfillment, inject excitement, spur conversation, and open doors to unexpected connections in the office.
Trifecta seeks ROI from exploratory trips in a number of ways,
and you can, too.
1. Monthly or quarterly staff meetings can be geared around employee explorations, whether that’s something new in their local community or a passageway under Istanbul.
2. Photos and memorabilia can be posted around the office, highlighting places employees have been and things they’ve done.
3. A “wonder room” can be established within the office. This is a tradition we discovered in Sweden in which a room is set aside to house curious items and artifacts from travels and explorations. It’s an ancient tradition and, when properly executed in a modern office, makes for a serious conversation piece with clients and guests.
4. Employees can be trained to look for the unusual and seek learning opportunities on trips; capturing video and photos to bring newfound experiences and knowledge back to the staff.
5. Employees can hold Skype and Zoom calls with friends and associates from far away places to share best practices and build connectivity...and sometimes collaborate on projects.
When we returned from Turkey, the footage and interviews of Syrian refugees made an indelible impression on our staff, building empathy for a people seemingly far away, but so close. This merger of business, diplomacy, and discovery had a permanent effect on our staff for the better.
And somewhere on the other side of the world, a group of Syrian children are well familiar with the Scissortail Flycatcher, the rose rock, and the Oklahoma state flag...and know there are people in America who care.
This is the art of exploration.