Homework Vital Before Kicking Off on the Road


I am preparing for a business trip next week.


I feel oddly guilty about it, since we opine on a weekly basis that technology is making physical locality a minor detail in getting work done.


However, this trip-to discuss a potential new product offering with one of our key suppliers-should be well worth the hassle and few hundred bucks it will cost the company, I think.


One way I am trying to ensure value from this jaunt is to do as much homework as I possibly can before I get on that plane, particularly as it relates to a new technology that we are evaluating and, candidly, know very little about. This homework largely entails asking a lot of pesky technical questions about metadata, page headers and the like prior to my day or two of face time with our supplier. We are also working on some schematics that, as you might expect, are perfectly happy traveling via data packets across the Midwest.


Let me make this one point perfectly clear-this is not a biz dev or sales call. (If we were reliant on me making sales, we would have been out of business a long time ago.) This is a details-oriented meeting with a supplier that we know pretty well and with whom we have a good relationship. So, there's not a lot of the get-to-know-ya mojo to this trip that is so fundamental to much business travel, and really can't happen in Second Life, no matter how cool your avatar is.


This is a working meeting.


I imagine I am a real pain leading up such meetings, which are often described as "kickoffs." To me, an idea has to have been kicked off and advanced down the field a bit before I am willing to get on a plane at 6 A.M. to discuss it in person. E-mail, group collaboration software and that old stalwart the telephone are great ways to kick that puppy into at least semi-baked field position.


However, I find there's a natural tendency to add a face-to-face to the calendar and then just mentally check out on the topic until the meeting. This is probably true of all meetings, but it does seem to be amplified in the case of out-of-towners, as though the bother of the thing (and admit it, they are a bother) somehow implies that the issue at hand is just too complicated to address without a great meeting of minds, and torsos, and lunch menus


To me, it's kinda the inverse. A face-to-face meeting is a great way to quickly, confidently hash out those early- to mid-project details that for some reason (I think they are often called "communication breakdowns") seem to require four or five teleconferences and a cascade of e-mail to resolve. They are not the best platform for simply raising questions or asking for data points that are probably going to require a couple of days to cull out. In-person collaboration is not going to yield key metrics or market data points; that's homework, and it can be handled at home.


So in advance of this meeting, I have been firing off about an e-mail a day with pesky technical questions, some of which did require some research, as well as a document clearly outlining the business dos and don'ts of this possible project. It's annoying, I imagine, but it's also going to save us a half-day or so of a feeling-out process that is just not needed-at least not in the valuable (i.e., darn expensive) context of business travel.


Instead of focusing on what's desirable or even possible, we'll be able to dig in on the more complex issues of the best way to get there.


And where to have dinner, of course.