Reflections

After enduring a particularly brutal year, I just returned refreshed and reinvigorated from my annual two day October business retreat, brimming with new ideas, renewed optimism and a fresh perspective. One of these was to finally start adding content to the blog I created a month or so ago. So here is the first installment.

As always, my retreat , did not involve a couple of days in a workshop overlooking some sunny beach or relaxing with some fruity drink in a far off and exotic location. Tempting as these scenarios are, my annual retreat is a more modest location closer to home. In fact it is at home - in my own backyard.

For those who don't know, when we purchased our house, it came complete with a large pergola over the patio covered with grape vines and several rows of vines in the backyard. My wife and I had always dreamed of having a small vineyard and having one ready made was one a major factor in the selection of this house over the others we looked at.

So each year, at some time in October everything else gets put on hold while we pick and process the harvest of that year and prepare the vines to put forth new fruit in the coming spring.

While picking and processing hundreds of pounds of grapes by hand, may not seem very relaxing, it truly is - in a odd sort of way. When the grapes are ready to be picked or when an impending frost means they must be picked, ready or not, there is no waiting, no rescheduling. To delay means the loss of everything. So whatever I am working on, gets put on the back burner until the harvest is in.
This forces me to step away from the day to day processes. No ringing phones, emails, IM's, meetings, conference calls or text messages to respond to, Nothing to do but enjoy the sunshine, the cool autumn air, stroll through the rows of yellow leafed vines and pick grapes.

The actual process requires very little physical or mental exercise, so I have found this to be an ideal time to step back and think about the events of the past year as I clip bunches of grapes from the vines, To think about my business and the industry, to examine how things are going and where things could be going in the future. To review what is working for my clients and my business, what isn't, what might work with changes, and what changes need to be made and how to make them.

The events of the past year have really given everyone a lot to think about. Previously, meetings seemed to be an ideal business. No matter how bad things were, companies continued to hold meetings, if for no other reason than to discuss how bad things were and what to do about it. Sure, they might scale back, choose second tier properties, hold meetings closer to home, cut down on activities, use only the barest AV and staging. But they would continue to hold meetings in some form.

Then suddenly the meeting industry became the poster child for all that was perceived wrong with American business. Meetings were tagged as extravagant and excessive wastes of shareholder or government money. Suddenly, the entire industry and the economy's of some major cities started paying the price for the reported sins of a few. Companies not wanting to find themselves the subject of a story on the nightly news suddenly started to cancel or postpone their planned events en mass and my business and many others were caught in the tailspin of that fall out. As a result, the past year has been pretty grim – coincidentally just like my grape harvest last year.

But this year, just as my vines returned from nothing, to produce a modest crop, so too am I seeing signs of business returning. And while I'm not ready to predict next year will see a return to the boom years past, anymore than I am willing to predict a bumper crop of grapes next year, I remain optimistic. Just as my vines respond to my care and optimistically put forth new fruit each year, I too am hopeful that the efforts I have made this year to rebuild my business will result in a return to a more normal meeting environment and possibly produce that bumper crop of events again down the road.

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