Entrepreneurs often cite travel as a key ingredient for success in an increasingly globalized tech world. And it’s true—all businesspeople can benefit from getting outside of their comfort zones.
When I was a kid, my family lived in three different countries—Ghana, Gambia, and Botswana. I returned to Ghana for college before moving to the U.S. Growing up abroad forced me to frequently make new friends, adapt to unexpected power outages, and navigate unfamiliar cultures.
While moving around a lot came with many challenges, there were even bigger benefits, both for my personal development and, later, for the development of my software company. Specifically, my early experiences prepared me to handle the constantly shifting tech world.
You don’t have to move to new countries to establish adaptability. It’s more about going out of your way to meet new people and welcome foreign experiences.
Here’s why all tech entrepreneurs can benefit from experiencing some momentary discomfort in order to open up their minds:
When unforeseen business challenges arise, I roll with the punches.
Company leaders face unexpected challenges nearly every day. Sometimes you lose a major customer you were counting on to meet your goals. If you don’t have a Plan B or Plan C, you’ll be completely caught off guard, so it’s important that you’re flexible and remain calm under pressure.
In some countries I’ve lived in, for example, you couldn’t take for granted the fact that there would always be power or water. Often there was power rationing, or you’d randomly lose water for several days. You’d just deal with it.
Weathering the obstacles of daily living in various countries continues to aid me in running a successful tech company.
A few years ago, for example, our software platform went down due to some issues with our hosting provider. Without warning, we suddenly had thousands of unhappy customers. Our customers didn’t know the backstory with our hosting provider; they just knew they couldn’t access our service. Keeping my cool in this situation was crucial to making sure we didn’t lose too many customers from this glitch.
Growing up in unpredictable cultures better prepared me for this situation, and for the many ones like it that inevitably come with being a tech entrepreneur. In fact there is a military acronym (VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) that describes this sort of environment. In the business environment we live in today, leaders need to learn to operate in a world that is constantly in flux.
Forging new friendships as a kid has helped me build relationships with a global team.
Several times during my formative years, I was plucked from my life as I knew it and dropped into an entirely foreign environment. The first few days were always horrible because I didn’t know anybody and felt completely isolated.
But the initial difficulties were well worth it. I was forced to adapt, make new friends, learn new social rules and—ultimately—come to welcome the novel.
Later on, I applied the receptivity I cultivated growing up to building my company’s team. When you look beyond your immediate surroundings, you might realize your perfect programmer lives in Alaska. Maybe 20 years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible, but now with tools like Slack and Skype, you don’t have to always be in the same place as your team. You can always organize retreats where you all get to know each other on a more personal level.
When you try to source talent outside of your comfort zone, you’ll find skilled employees you never expected.
Regardless of where you are, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. Remaining open and receptive to different types of people is key to building a stellar team.
Travel inspires me to think outside of the box.
Although I’m no longer moving around, I still travel often. When I do, I like to experience new cultures the way local people do. If I go to Mexico, for example, I skip the sanitized tourist version. Rather than visit a chain restaurant or a beach filled with Californians on Spring Break, I go out of my way to experience the local food and the local culture.
When you immerse yourself in different cultural experiences, opportunities for personal development abound. But travel can also help you grow as a business-person.
For example, Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz got the idea for Red Bull when he traveled to Thailand and tried a similar local drink. He modified the ingredients slightly to suit Western tastes, and founded Red Bull in partnership with the Thai company, Krating Daeng. If Mateschitz had never gone to Thailand, the world’s leading energy drink would not exist. Because he opened himself up to different cultures, he reaped major rewards. Red Bull has the highest market share of any energy drink, and sells roughly 6 billion cans a year.
But you don’t necessarily have to leave your continent to think outside the box. Even in your own city, you can see things in a new light simply by shaking up your routine. You can take a different street home from work, or try a new restaurant or cuisine. In doing so, you’ll probably learn something about yourself or other people you didn’t know before.
I was lucky in that my childhood experiences encouraged me to become open-minded from an early age. But even if you’ve lived in the same place your whole life, it’s possible—and important—to court the novel whenever possible. If you want to succeed as a business leader, it’s crucial to cultivate a broad outlook.
Founder and CEO at Ximble