Train journey brings insights and connections

I love autumn days when a fresh breeze tumbles the leaves along the sidewalk and the sun gives a mellow, golden glow to the landscape.  It is an energizing time of year and I am working on some  new projects. What better time to hop on a train and take a short trip? I left Paris to travel north to Belgium and then on to The Netherlands to see a client.

I’ve never visited the company’s production plant and now there are some new people on their communications team. With a sense of anticipation, I climbed on the train at Gare du Nord and settled back in my seat for the 3-hour journey.

My fellow travelers were quiet – working at laptops or reading, a few were sleeping. The only sound was the rhythm of the train in motion. The early morning sun touched our faces and gave the train compartment a warm ambiance.

Of course I had things to do, but I could not resist using my iPhone  for a few seconds to make this short video. Part of my work is text-based but I also think visually and I often use my iPhone to take photos of things that spark creative ideas in my work (web, social media, communication plans). The passing scenery from my window reminded of road trips that I’ve taken in the US.  I would watch the sky through a square of car window, the miles flowing past and the road smoothly unrolling like a long ribbon.  Today, the view from the train was the calm Belgium countryside and when I returned to my work, I felt mentally refreshed.

The client visit was interesting and productive.  I like to learn about technical processes and I had the opportunity to see how the raw materials are extracted to make their range of products.  This will enable me to better communicate about the value of the company’s offering to their clients and partners.

In the evening, I went to a small hotel about 10km from the client’s facility.  At one point, we needed to take a small ferry to cross a canal. I thought this was funny, it is not often that I travel by car, taxi, train and boat in one day!

The hotel was a former rectory that was built in the 16th century. It has been nicely renovated and the owners are a young couple who also operate a small restaurant that offers imaginative dishes using fresh local products.

After checking into my room, I took a short walk around the small town and felt the silence of the surrounding countryside after a busy day. I used my iPhone to take photos of the nearby church. I have a good quality digital camera that I could use. But I’m enjoying the oddly interesting look of my iPhone photos.  It reminds me of people who love the distinct look & feel of  photos taken with the Lomo camera. The Lomo motto is “Don’t Think, Just Shoot”.  lol

While my iPhone and I were entertaining each other, a car pulled into the parking lot and it was the two people who were joining me for dinner.  I looked forward to getting to know them better and understand their business. We hurried inside to the warmth of the restaurant and were surrounded by cheerful conversations and tempting smells from the kitchen.

It’s great to sit down and talk with people over a meal.  At times, the conversation was focused on business. But we also invested time just getting to know each other and discovering common interests and experiences.

The next day on the train back to Paris, I went through my notes and recalled the different discussions I had. The company I visited has a broad cultural diversity and I met with people who spoke Dutch, Flemish, German, French, Arabic and English. At times like this, I feel very happy to be working in an international business environment with people from many different cultures.

Business is about working hard and making money, but it is also about listening to the other person and developing sincere and cooperative relationships. I don’t think you can truly succeed without doing this.

Back at my desk, I have a clear mental image of the company, its facilities and processes, and most importantly – its people.