When I worked in Manhattan a long time ago, one thing that regularly made me crazy was tourists. They weren’t hard to spot. They weren’t moving along with the general flow of pedestrian traffic. In fact, they often weren’t moving at all as they stopped to gawk at the big buildings or waited until the light turned green before crossing a street that had no traffic.
At holiday time, it was worse. Not only did they stare at the decorations but there were LOTS more of them. They had to have the photo of the Rockefeller Center tree while the rest of us had to BE SOMEWHERE.
It’s become worse with the advent of smartphones. Now, it’s not just the tourists that walk around without purpose. One is constantly bumping into people. We used to have an expression at the NHL: don’t skate with your head down. It meant one should pay attention to the surroundings to avoid nasty collisions. Smartphone users inevitably walk with their heads’ down.
I see that Honolulu, another tourist mecca, has passed a law that will fine you up to $35 if you’re caught staring at your phone when crossing the street. Get caught a second time and it’ll cost you up to $75. Nailed a third time and the fine is $99. Of course, by then you’re probably in a hospital, having been hit by a car. Still, there is a business lesson in this.
It’s way too easy to conduct business with your head down, fixated on what you’re doing while ignoring your surroundings. Heck, many places encourage it, as employees sit in front of computers wearing headphones. That’s a worry (how are people to interact?) but the big concern is ignoring the changing market or new opportunities that emerge. No, we can’t go chasing every shiny new object, but we do need to be aware that they’re out there so we can evaluate if they present a new opportunity or just a distraction. When we’re locked in – whether to a computer screen or a smartphone or to our own internal goings-on – we’re business tourists, out of sync with the pace of business and unaware of our surroundings. Head’s up!