Remember how excited you’d get as a kid when it came time to take a field trip? To hop on a school bus and leave the monotony of the classroom for a day so you could engross yourself in something new and different. It was a refreshing break from the confines of four beige walls, uncomfortable desks, and boring books. You got the chance to interact in a more dynamic environment and socialize with your closest friends. It was a limited opportunity to become immersed in a real life, hands-on setting versus the mind-numbing daily lectures and textbooks.

As adults, we don’t always get those same opportunities, or maybe we do and just don’t think of them in the same way as we used to. We may view that off-site trip as a business meeting or networking event, which completely depletes our energy levels and makes us want to crawl back into bed. But more than likely, as busy professionals we just don’t create those experiences for ourselves—with our overloaded calendars and endless task lists. We never make the effort to push ourselves outside daily routines to experience something different and gain a fresh perspective.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin

Professional field trips divert restlessness and boredom and can help build a culture of diversity in thought. The way we absorb information, conduct our work, and build our business has little chance of evolving if we experience the same environment and people day after day. Great companies that innovate have a reputation for actively participating in a world outside their own cubicles. Smart businesses and strong leaders strive to find new ideas and inspiration for the teams they oversee. This makes for a more compelling and sustainable business—wouldn’t you agree?

In my 2015 plans, I’ve made it a priority to schedule regular field trips for myself so I can renew my focus, explore first-hand observations, ignite my creativity, and engage my senses.

As I thought about what, where, and how I might select for my field trips, I’ve captured some ideas which may make it easier to establish them as part of your professional repertoire.

The Field Trip Construct

  • Do alone or as a group. If you find it easier to go on your own giving you greater flexibility and independence, go for it. If you prefer to find colleagues, other professionals, or even friends to go with you, outreach to those you think will be interested and can participate to secure their commitment. Keep the group small and intimate, although depending on what you choose to do, larger groups may be the preferred choice. Be flexible if you need to be, but decide in advance how your program will work.
  • Make it monthly and commit. It’s important to do this with some regularity and consistency so it becomes a habit. This also gives participants or yourself something to look forward to if you feel your energy draining. Trying it out as a monthly activity first is a great start and something that might be easier to commit to. If you find it’s too much or not enough, adjust the expectation. If it becomes too difficult to create a special event more than monthly, use smaller ideas to fill in the gaps so you still get the benefit of an off-site experience. Either way, make the commitment.
  • Assign and schedule. If you have a group, it helps to break up the responsibility by assigning each person a date to secure the field trip event. If it requires scheduling with a specific venue or with transportation, ensure that each person takes the full responsibility of creating the event of his or her choice. Be certain to provide them an agreed to set of parameters, but give them the freedom to select the experience for their assigned slot.
  • Make it different. When thinking of the parameters, ensure that the general premise is clear. Make the field trip different enough so it feels special and unique. Clarify with examples of what’s acceptable versus what’s not so everyone is on the same page. And if your just scheduling for yourself, be sure to ask what will feel different enough for you to gain something from the experience.
  • Offer small fee or support. When selecting a trip, you may find that some places charge admissions or fees. Agree in advance what the cap will be. If you’re visiting a business or another professional location, consider offering a small fee, food donation such as lunch or coffee and donuts, or even offer your physical assistance during the time you’re there. Don’t assume someone will let you visit without some sort of trade. Then you need to determine if that trade is worth it to you.
  • Look for the takeaways. Once you know the where and what of the field trip, list a few things you want to be looking for to ensure you’re getting the most from the experience. Don’t force it to be all business questions necessarily—instead try to capture a few ideas that will help you to view the interaction differently. A few ideas to get you started might be:
    • What’s the experience you’ll be observing?
    • What are the differences from your own professional life?
    • What are the similarities?
    • How do the individuals working there think about what they do?
    • How do they frame their work and their day?
    • Where do they go for inspiration?
    • Where do they get their ideas?
    • What is their process?
    • How do they recharge?
    • How do they make it fun and interesting?
    • Do they collaborate with others and who?
    • What is their ‘customer’ engagement like and what makes it unique?
    • How do they market their work, product, service, or experience?
    • What’s the culture like and how does that impact the work, business, employees, productivity, etc.?
  • Include a debrief. Be sure to schedule the time to debrief about what you learned or experienced during the field trip. You want to know it was worthwhile and it’s a great opportunity to see how others viewed the experience. Make this part of the process fun as well. Try not to just gather in a conference room, but try going for a walk, or to lunch or a drink, or maybe have a picnic in the park as part of the day. Continue taking yourself outside of your normal environment. If you did the field trip alone, write or journal about it immediately afterward. Capture the key learnings, observations, and viewpoints while they’re still fresh on your mind. What did you learn, what was interesting, was anything applicable to your business and how you work, etc.?
  • Ask what worked, what didn’t. As you discuss each field trip, be sure to capture what you and the group thought worked for the experience, and what didn’t. Consider what you might try differently, new, or continue including so the person scheduling the next one understands how to adjust or build upon as necessary.

Seeking Ideas and Experiences

  • Talk to clients and colleagues. When you are with your clients or even other colleagues, ask if they have ideas for field trips. One of your customers might suggest you come to visit their offices for a few hours, or maybe observe a creative endeavor they are undertaking. Just be sure it’s something different than what you’d normally be doing for them.
  • Explore networking events and conferences. During networking events or industry conferences, you may come across businesses that are quite different than yours. If they work differently than you or develop something creative as part of their service, consider asking if you can come and observe during one of their creative days. If you are alone, offer to assist them if they are comfortable with it. 

    “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” — Pablo Picasso

  • Go for artistic or cultural venues. It goes without saying, but field trips from grade school conjure up images of museum tours and zoo visits. Those are actually still great ideas for adults. Add to the mix art galleries, music venues, city programs, or even architectural tours. These are all fantastic ways to get outside of your normal community and view something different sparking ideas in your own business life.
  • Mini-courses and how-to classes. Lots of places offer fun and creative classes that might only last a few hours. It could be an art class, a cooking workshop, or even how to do calligraphy. Awakening other senses we may not use in our day-to-day lives can be just the spark we need. And bonus, it’s a great stress reliever.
  • Follow a pro. Look for experiences where you can follow another professional for a day, or maybe a creative person or group such as a film crew or photographer. If you can see how they approach their work, how they think about the visual side of what they do, what tools or process they use, all of these things can reignite your own passions.

Have you taken field trips as part of your professional development? What have you done or where have you gone? Are there any other ideas, recommendations, or lessons learned you would make to those of us wanting to make this a regular program? Share below in the comments section.

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