TODD CONNOR is an evangelist for an American renewal of entrepreneurship. Todd is the founder of Bunker Labs, a national entrepreneurship organization with chap-ters in 30 states across the U.S., that works with military veterans and military spouses who want to start their own business. He is also the founder of The Collective Acad-emy (www.TheCollective-Academy.com), Emerson House (www.ExperienceEm-erson.com), as well as other for-profit and philanthropic organizations. For speaking requests, access to additional thought leadership, or to attend workshops visit www.ThirdShiftEntrepreneur.com.
Standing in the early morning dawn, waiting on the corner for his Lyft ride, the spring air felt good to Matt, especially after coming out of a particularly harsh Chicago winter. He was excited about the client meeting in Cincinnati that had previously been put off. As a Senior Manager for one of the largest management consulting firms in the country, Coopers & Tompkins, Matt was on the cusp of making partner. He had built this relationship on his own with a large consumer packaged goods company and was going to pitch them a strategy project to optimize their pricing decisions around a set of household chemical products. He had done this kind of work before, and though nervous about leading the pitch for this new project, he felt comfortable with the subject matter. Winning this client would represent a significant achievement in the path toward the career milestone of making partner. The meetings would last all day, but he would still be on a same-day flight back home afterward to have dinner with Sabina.
In anticipation of this client meeting and the feeling of the accompanying hunt for this new potential win, Matt was energized. Why, he wondered in these moments of fulfillment in his professional life, couldn't he be happy with his job? Partner, after all, would represent a significant pay increase and arguably the culmination of his career transformation after leaving the Army, earning his MBA and working his way up through the ranks as a management consultant. Attainment of partner status was, after all, the prize, and he was close to securing it.
The Lyft, a black Prius, pulled up on cue. Matt looked at the app and saw that his driver matched the picture in the app with a goatee and red-rimmed glasses.
"Ken?" Matt said.
"Yes, Kenneth," the driver answered in a slightly high-pitched voice, gently reaffirming that he prefers to be called Kenneth more than Ken. "I assume you're Matt?" the driver turned a glance and answered.
"Yep. Good morning." And with that Matt slipped into the backseat and settled in for the 30-minute ride to the airport.
Matt's preference in these frequent Lyft rides to the airport was never to speak. The older he got, the more he hated the small talk, particularly with strangers. He would become anxious if he saw the driver had compliments for "great conversation." He could appear to shut down as a prevention strategy if it looked as if the stranger in the airplane seat next to him wanted to chat or find some commonality that, in Matt's mind, didn't matter. Discoveries like "What a small world! We both have relatives in Sacramento ." Matt found pedestrian and irritable. He didn't particularly like this side of himself, but he was aware of it.
He grabbed his phone and opened up some of his favorite blogs. His preferred media consumption was a mix of management and strategy blogs, entrepreneur and startup business profiles, human interest stories and articles exploring natural wonders and adventure travel. He was a keen student of human behavior and deeply captivated by outdoor adventures. He had a natural curiosity about people with different life experiences than his own, something to which he had wider exposure in the Army and increasingly less so as he advanced in his professional career. Matt could be dismissed as a two-dimensional management consultant, but his heartfelt concern for others, his love of the outdoors and camping and his experiences in life represented more than what strangers might assume of him at face value.
Some of his male friends from the Army dove into sports, military history, or international current events. Not Matt. He had little interest in these topics despite his time in uniform. For Matt, he was more likely to be thinking about the intersections of innovation, the climate, entrepreneurship and human behavior.
Growing up in the Midwest, Matt cultivated a love of the outdoors, spending weekends camping in the Indiana Dunes, Starved Rock, or even the local forest preserves. He was more in his element outdoors, even in the unforgiving climate of the Middle East, than he would ever be inside of a corporate office building.
Matt was deep in an article about California wildfires and innovative community intervention strategies to prevent future catastrophes when the Lyft driver interrupted him.
"So, where are you flying to today?" he asked.
And here we go, Matt thought. Here goes my peace and quiet by some Lyft driver who wants to chat. "Cincinnati."
"Cool. For business?"
"Yes." Matt intentionally made his answer short.
His driver, Kenneth, seemed to get the message. He offered a furtive glance in the rearview mirror but otherwise sat looking straight ahead as he made his way down the street.
Matt felt a pang of self-loathing. I'm such a jerk, he thought. What's wrong with people wanting to be nice in the world? Why do I always have these hostile reactions? To redeem himself, he thought he would perk up and offer a friendly olive branch. "Nice car. How long have you been driving for Lyft?"
"A few months or so. The car is about a year old. I enjoy it. Plus, I get to meet new people like you."
Matt sensed the compliment was a throwaway line, but however disingenuous it might have been, it felt good to hear. He also noticed that Kenneth was wearing a blazer he liked, something he might want to have in his own closet and seemingly more formal than he expected from a Lyft driver.
"So," Kenneth picked back up, "I guess you must travel a lot for work?"
"Yeah," Matt offered, "almost every week."
"I know that gets tiring. So, what do you do for a living?"
"I'm a management consultant," Matt replied.
"Which firm? And what kind of consulting? Strategy? Operations? Human capital? Something else?"
Matt was a little surprised by the specificity of the question and the insider language that he seemed to know. "I work as a strategy consultant for Coopers & Tompkins, mostly looking at how companies implement better pricing strategies using technology platforms. But I've done strategy projects across a wide array of business challenges. A little bit of everything, I guess."
"Interesting. One of the big firms? Or a smaller firm? You a partner?"
Huh, Matt chuckled. This Lyft driver apparently knows his lingo. "One of the larger firms. Not quite a partner, but maybe this year. I've been a management consultant since getting out of the Army and going to business school. It's a grind, but it provides. Most days I like it." Matt paused and thought about the conversation with this driver, who seemed more knowledgeable than Matt expected. "You seem to know a lot about management consulting?"
"Not really. I just meet a lot of consultants on their way to the airport, driving for Lyft. I'm able to pick up a little of the language here and there. Nothing too crazy." Kenneth pivoted to continue the conversation, "My wife works in HR, and we were talking the other night about training and development. How do you get together with your colleagues for training and offsite retreats?"
"Well, we're on the road a lot so time at home is somewhat precious. Our clients, however, often do offsite retreats and occasionally they want the consultants there to facilitate the conversation or team building experience."
Why is that interesting to you? Matt thought.
Kenneth continued and clarified, "So, let me get this straight. Some of your client's leadership teams want to do offsite retreats? Like on an annual basis?"
Matt thought about the question. "Well, it depends. Sometimes we are working with a client on a merger or acquisition, and in that case, part of what we are doing is to get these two teams together to build trust, identify issues, and learn to operate as a newly consolidated team. As you can imagine, a situation like that can have tension or legacy resentment."
"I can only imagine, sure," Kenneth said, continuing. "I also imagine that finding the right environment to have that type of an offsite retreat would be important to create trust."
"It is. I mean we stay at lots of hotels all the time set up for corporate meetings and retreats."
"Does that work though? I mean, do you like the hotel environment for that kind of an offsite retreat?"
Matt thought about it. "Well, I haven't really thought about it but not particularly. It just tends to be what we do. I'm not sure I know other options. I did do an offsite retreat with the leadership team of a small subsidiary with whom we were working. The founder and CEO of the company offered to host everyone at her private ranch in the middle of New Mexico, and that was cool. She had something like 12 bedrooms, but of course, not everyone has that."
"Wow, that's cool," Kenneth affirmed. "So, just curious here. How much does it cost to bring a group offsite to a hotel for a few days?"
Matt felt it was an odd question, something of a non-sequitur, but weirdly enough he knew the answer because he had been tasked on one of last year's...