I just returned from a brief trip to Chile. During my visit I met with the CEOs of a number of companies ranging in size from a few billion dollars with international reach to market leaders in Chile with little business across borders. In each case I was there to discuss projects they are considering for significant international expansion. Since they were located all around the greater Santiago area, visiting them gave me an opportunity to see much of the city and speak to a wide variety of people in addition to the CEOs.
As usual, I started conversations with everyone and wandered around carefully observing what was going on. From several hotel staff I learned about the state of business and tourism travel and it’s implications for the economy. Packed restaurants led me to believe that people are feeling comfortable about spending money on dining out. Huge office buildings going up everywhere showed how the economy is booming and businesses are growing.
I talked to taxi drivers who asked me about where I came from and what I thought of Chile and shared their favorite places I should try and visit. I watched the people on the street and the way the traffic worked. And was intrigued by the architecture and the backdrop of the snowcapped Andes mountains right next to the city while I walked around in pleasant weather without even a light jacket.
The CEOs shared a bit of history of their businesses. On the flights home it occurred to me that I had heard different versions of the same story, each piece described from the perspective of their industry…agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, beverages. Each shared his vision for the company and where he thought I could help him.
As I heard their stories I had immediate ideas on how to help them, ideas I could share to get them thinking about ways to address their issues. I freely shared my thoughts and found they leaned forward and started asking questions and encouraging me to keep talking. they oh so cleverly picked my brain and got me to lay out the projects.
On the flights home I got thinking about my visit. I came alone and spent most of my time alone and in spite of talking to many mostly was alone with my thoughts. It occurred to me that my experience was enhanced and my thoughts crisper from the leisurely pace due to the way the meetings wound up scheduled. I had plenty of free time to quietly wander and observe.
I arrived Sunday morning and spent the afternoon walking around the neighborhood of Bellavista, an old neighborhood now filled with restaurants and shops nestled right up against Cerro San Cristobal, a medium sized peak with the Virgin of Santiago standing on the top. I spent a couple of hours climbing up and much less time on the way down. It was a mind expanding experience between the exercise of the climb, the wonderful and every changing view of Santiago and the Andes, and the riot of people in the neighborhood and on the path on the mountain.
It prepared me to listen well to the CEOs and cleared out the clutter in my head for the clear thought and creative ideas required in the meetings. It must have worked as several of them asked if I would continue to be involved should the projects go forward.
An odd kind of clarity break since it went on for a few days and was interspersed with business meetings requiring intense concentration. In between the meetings, more time on my own. And then on to the next meeting.
When I returned I noticed a quote I had pulled out of the Wall Street Journal sitting on my desk. “I don’t pretend to be an intellectual or a philosopher. I just look.” Josef Koudelka, a well known Czech photographer. Just now, for the first time, I looked up his bio and found he also said, “When I photograph, I do not think much.”
Without my knowing it, my time in Santiago was Koudelka Time. Time when you observe without thinking and allow the underlying creativity and vision to come forth.