Winding our way down the road on a journey lends itself to opportunities for metaphorical thinking. From the idea of a pilgrimage of faith to an arduous path to wisdom, traveling lends itself to deeper meaning. This journey “archetype” can be found as far back as our literature reaches into the past. From Homer’s description of Odysseus as widely travelled and hence ingenious to Wordsworth’s description of Newton’s process as, “Voyaging through strange seas of thought.” travel resonates deeply in us in fascinating ways. Of course a mention of Kerouac’s On the Road, a book about a personal quest for meaning and belonging is a great example of what the idea of the “road” can represent. As Jack said, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” The “road” we realize is a part of us and has been for a very long time.
In a car as opposed to air travel the sense of gradual progress and awareness of the environment is much more immediate. The passing scene and time spent builds a concept of accomplishment from actions taken. While we travel for all sorts of reasons, a business trip, a trip to see family, sometimes we travel to experience a sense of freedom and movement in our lives, the quintessential “road trip”. The idea of moving away from something and toward something else can be very satisfying if we accept the “doing” of and “being” of a traveler.
If you travel far enough you can watch the environment change. These changes are often gradual but sometimes dramatic. Shifting microclimates merge into a markedly different environmental experience. What starts as an exposed rock formation can slowly lead to a mountain. A scrub tree on the desert can eventually lead to a forest. Or in some cases driving around a curve leads to an unexpected panoramic scene. These changes hint at the progress of the journey and a sense of accomplishment, again, often gradual but sometimes dramatic. Imagine the first time a traveler walked up to the edge of the Grand Canyon. Its depths are so astounding our perception is at times confused by it. How was this person and the journey they were on changed? It must have been profound. Even now, despite maps and electronic means of finding our way traveling can lead to unforeseen experiences that test our knowledge and our comfort level.
Just like the microclimates mentioned above we can also experience micro-cultures as we move across the landscape. Despite the intentions and impact of corporate entities that place chain stores across the land, those cultural differences persist in many ways. While humans as a whole are pretty much the same the world over, cultural differences do exist. As we drive through Dodge City, Kansas we instinctively know that people who live here have a specific culture that has been built over a very long time. A culture built around the cattle business. As we drive through Santa Fe, New Mexico we can’t help but notice the adobe buildings in all directions. When we stop for gas or to eat and spend the night we get a sense of the differences. We may notice that the clothing styles are different; the accents are different, and other subtle differences that are noticeable. All travelers throughout time have felt this sense of difference as they travel and for some it is challenging and can cause discomfort. For others it is interesting and delightful. Either way the opportunity for being challenged in some sense is there and thus an opportunity for learning exists.
The road, simply intended to allow transport from one point to the next also bears the implications of its history. Like the progress of any endeavor in regards to both time and success it has an historical element. Travelling across the Southwest of the United States one can easily imagine the trade routes of the Native Americans or wagon tracks of determined settlers that became the interstate highway. The routes the roads take were determined by trial and error that sometimes led to tragic consequences. It was travel at your own risk. While that risk is not what we face, every trip has its risks, breaking down, being in unfamiliar territory, etc. and really that’s part of what makes it fascinating. As we whiz by in the comfort of our vehicles we sometimes see remnants of the past. An abandoned ramshackle building can speak to another time when the passersby were travelling slower on the road and the location was perceived as viable and essential in some way. While it no longer serves an immediate function it evokes a sense of history and can be emotionally moving.
A Business Metaphor
Going back to journey metaphors we encounter that almost universal myth of the “Hero Journey”. It’s the basis of many children’s books, movies, and literature throughout time. The journey is typically one of leaving behind the known and venturing forth on a quest or adventure. The hero experiences difficulties as well as support throughout the journey. In the process profound learning occurs. When the hero returns he or she brings with them knowledge and experiences to assist others. This Hero myth has become a learning lesson and tool for many businesses. The implication of transformative change is one that is powerful and lends itself to many aspects of innovative endeavor. We see ourselves on this journey and often use this metaphor to help others more clearly see the journey they are on and its implications. Artotems Co, was started quite a long time ago as a business that worked with healthcare data and designed databases. As we traveled along our business path we made changes to what we did based on our experiences and the needs of our customers. For many of our business clients the Hero Journey myth fits right in. Starting a new business is certainly a journey of discovery and learning and is an effort worthy of admiration. Whether that business is one that helps companies be more efficient in its energy use or one that creates unique one of a kind totem poles they are on a journey that not all are willing to venture forth on. It takes independence and vision to step out of the comfort zone and create something. Understanding the journey and its implications is vital to success. Whether it’s the subtle differences in the environment of your field of endeavor, the people you work with and serve, or the history of what’s come before, vigilance is required. It’s a “road trip” of awareness, vision, and creativity.
As the season changes and the summer vacations are over, we wonder how many of us enjoyed the journey as much as the destinations we arrived at. I know we did.
Below are a few random car photos taken as we traveled across part of U.S. to Los Angeles.
Thoughts on the implications of creative efforts and the customers we work with.