Business Insights from a Nature Writer

Barry Lopez’ Lessons from his book Horizon

Barry Lopez died on Christmas Day.

Barry Lopez was a nature and travel writer. His most famous book is Arctic Dreams, which won the National Book Award in 1986. Last year I read Horizon, which, like Arctic Dreams, is a travel book, an environmental book, and even a philosophy book.

But in addition, its lessons apply to business.

In Horizon, Barry Lopez travels to all ends of the earth — literally. From the Arctic to the South Pole and many spaces in between, like the Pacific Northwest, Kenya, Australia, and the Galapagos. Lopez works to truly understand the places he visits, the cultures of these places (now and in the past), and the lessons these places offer. He offers so many insights and pieces of wisdom.

Three key lessons from the book have direct applicability to business:

1. Get outside your comfort zone.

Lopez gets away from what he saw every day. He sought out a different view Lopez says travel “releases [you] from the dictatorship of absolute truths about humanity.”

In the business world, travel can include physical travel to customers, or to different offices, but it can also mean putting your mind in different situations: taking a course, getting out of your normal routine, attending a conference, picking up pursuits different from your normal day to day, or just calling someone you haven’t connected with in awhile.

In the pandemic world, it can mean working from a new location outside or even in your house. All of these open you up to new viewpoints.

2. Take time to listen. Don’t speak up immediately.

Lopez encourages the suspension of judgment. When visiting new locations, he absorbed these new places and new voices, their issues, and their humanity. He didn’t try to summarize immediately. He let the different perspectives sink in. Lopez suggests we “remain in a state of suspended mental analysis while observing all that was happening, resisting the urge to define or summarize.”

I tend to jump in with answers or a point of view too often and too early. I am working on letting the new information sink in. Like Lopez, I aim to let new ideas absorb awhile before immediately trying to compartmentalize what we see into our current point of view.

3. Seek out diversity in every way.

Lopez recognized that different cultures bring different stories and sometimes better approaches for dealing with life.

In the business world, this means striving to find diversity: diversity of perspectives, and diverse teams (in age, background, gender, races, nationalities, skill sets). The team I last managed was diverse in so many ways. Yet it was one of the strongest teams I’ve ever managed. The diversity in opinions, the discussions, and debates this diversity brought, broadened my horizons, to help me see more, appreciate more, understand more, and generate more ideas.

In turn, this diversity helped build a stronger culture.

I’m thankful to Barry Lopez for his work and his insights.

More information on Barry and his writings are here:

technologist, cultural omnivore, book nut, father

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