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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Reinvent Vacations For a Global Mobile Era

Comments (29)

Rosabeth Moss Kanter has an excellent post up on the HBR Blog titled Should Leaders Go on Vacation? Recently, I’ve seen plenty of commentary in the popular press (especially Fox News articles) about the inappropriateness of leaders taking vacation. Kanter does a nice job of dissecting the dynamics around leaders going on vacation and suggests the leader address five questions in the context of the vacation.

  • What is the vacation narrative?
  • What is the vacation timing?
  • What is the rest of the team doing?
  • Are there continuity, backup, and contingency plans?
  • What is the vacation symbolism?

I’m a huge believer in the importance of vacations for leaders, entrepreneurs, and everyone else. I work extremely hard – usually 70+ hours a week. This is simply not sustainable, at least for me at age 45, over a period of time longer than about three months. I eventually burn out, get tired and cranky, become less effective, and get sick. Vacations are a way for me to recharge, build my energy back, explore some different things, spend extended and uninterrupted time with the most important person in my life (Amy), and just chill out. This vacation usually takes the form of a Qx Vacation that is off the grid which is now well known to everyone who works with me.

Amy and I ordinarily spend the month of July at our house in Homer, Alaska. While this isn’t “a vacation”, it’s a change of context that has become a very important part of our routine. I work while I’m there, am completely connected and available, but have a very different life tempo. And – most importantly – zero travel.

This summer we spent July in Paris. We both love Paris and went there to just “live.” We rented an apartment in the 8th, ran in the local park, shopped at the Monoprix down the block, ate lunch at all of the nearby restaurants, and had some amazing meals out. But mostly we just hung out, worked remotely, and spent time together.

I’ve had a fantasy about renting a house in the Tuscan countryside and spending a month in Tuscany for many years. We decided to do it this summer and we turned our month in Alaska into two months in Europe. However, rather than travel around and be tourists, we just lived. We had plenty of friends visit, but we spent the days exercising (I ran a lot), reading, writing, and working.

I plan to write at least one post about what I learned in my “summer in Europe” after I return to the US next week. It has been an amazing experience, especially since I was completely connected to my regular work, yet was able to observe a lot of activity from a distance and reflect on what I really thought was going on.

In the mean time, if you are a leader, entrepreneur, or anyone else, I hope you read Kanter’s post and think hard about both the value of time away and the expectation setting around it. Life is short – make sure you live it.

  • Anonymous

    Funny you should mention Tuscany – we went there several years ago (good lord, 10+!) for three weeks with my parents and our (then) babies.  It was very relaxing and peaceful, and so much less busy then when we spent a few weeks in Paris. Perhaps because you never know when anything not food related will actually be open in Italy, but I found Paris much more ‘city like’ than even Rome.

    We lived in Oz for almost a year with the kids while my wife was doing a post-doc in Brisbane. Best year of our marriage in many ways.  Can’t wait to do it again.

    I also agree with you about re-charge and re-fresh.

    _XC

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup – Paris is definitely a city with big city rhythms. Amy and I have also spent time in Rome – it’s definitely a lot more random, which can actually be a lot of fun.

      • Anonymous

        My most vivid memory of Rome was how surprised I was that it was not like I’d been reading about during my 5 years of High School and college Latin.  My wife had a good laugh at how startled I was.

        My second most vivid memory was how horrified I was when the Vatican tour made it clear the destruction that had taken place to build that beautiful palace.

        And our most amusing anecdote was relying on the kindness of strange Italian parents for diapers as we could NOT find an open pharmacy one Saints day.

        -XC

        PS – We have some pictures of our then-2 now-15 year old son being cuddled by the most amazingly beautiful Italian women.  I need to drag those out and torture him.

        • http://www.feld.com bfeld

          Ah – that’s a mean thing to do to a 15 year old boy!

          My recollection of the Vatican was that it was an unbelievably incredible collection of stolen art – probably the best in the world.

          • Anonymous

            LOL, I think I was trying to say that in the nicest possible way.

            After all, the Catholic side of my family does use the internet….

            -XC

          • Pete Griffiths

            The Vatican is far from unique in that regard.  Most world class museums are crammed with loot seized when the country in question enjoyed imperial hegemony.

          • http://www.feld.com bfeld

            True.

        • http://www.feld.com bfeld

          Ah – that’s a mean thing to do to a 15 year old boy!

          My recollection of the Vatican was that it was an unbelievably incredible collection of stolen art – probably the best in the world.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup – Paris is definitely a city with big city rhythms. Amy and I have also spent time in Rome – it’s definitely a lot more random, which can actually be a lot of fun.

  • Anonymous

    Funny you should mention Tuscany – we went there several years ago (good lord, 10+!) for three weeks with my parents and our (then) babies.  It was very relaxing and peaceful, and so much less busy then when we spent a few weeks in Paris. Perhaps because you never know when anything not food related will actually be open in Italy, but I found Paris much more ‘city like’ than even Rome.

    We lived in Oz for almost a year with the kids while my wife was doing a post-doc in Brisbane. Best year of our marriage in many ways.  Can’t wait to do it again.

    I also agree with you about re-charge and re-fresh.

    _XC

  • Derald Muniz

    Awesome. Paige & I are headed to Paris in early September and just so happen to be renting an apartment in the 8th. Looking forward to this new experience.

  • Derald Muniz

    Awesome. Paige & I are headed to Paris in early September and just so happen to be renting an apartment in the 8th. Looking forward to this new experience.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Have a great time. You’ll love the 8th. Make sure you check out Amy’s blog posts on some of the things we did – http://amy.feld.com

  • Carrie Kane

    For the last two summers, I have taken my two sons to Tadoussac, Quebec, where my father has a home. No television, no video games…just Scrabble, Monopoly, books, whale watching, taffy pulling, and bonding. At 9 & 12, they have all the electronics one would ever want (except a MakerBot), and it is SO good for them (and me) to live for a week without. I will do whatever it takes to make this happen every summer. So good for the soul!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      This is a great thing to do. The no TV thing should be a central part of all vacations with 12 year old boys and grandparents.

  • Dave Hanna

    I think there is great value in leaders taking vacation.  Not only for their own sanity, but also for the demonstration of “walking the walk”.  Teams need to see their leaders take the opportunity to get some R&R – regardless of what crisis has appeared on the horizon (there is always something looming).  Likewise, I’m a believer that a manager should almost never reject a vacation request.  I have one example of a job that I quit exactly for that reason.  We should all be working to live and not the other way around.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Good point on walking the walk. I encourage everyone I work with – both at Foundry Group and in the companies we invest in – to take time off. My assistant Kelly came to Tuscany for a week and hung out with me, Amy, David Cohen, and Jil Cohen. It was awesome to spend time with her in a completely non-work context, and I know she badly needed the break from “work”, even if she was still around me.

  • Pete Griffiths

    The very idea that leaders shouldn’t take vacations is ludicrous.  There may well be creative psychopaths or those with other anti-social disorders who feel so compelled but this is no example to emulate.Not only do they exhaust themselves but they force their family (if they have found time to start one) and their fellow employees to suffer the consequences.  Families are short changed and employees are guilt tripped.  Real people being really damaged.  Not ok.

  • http://sotirov.com Emil Sotirov

    “…rather than travel around and be tourists, we just lived.”

    I love that!

  • Anonymous

    I think it is Jack Welch that is credited with ‘ if you can not organize 4 weeks of vacation for yourself why would I think you can organize a business…. ‘

  • Mark Phillips

    Brad,  I’m curious about how you managed to continue working with the time difference.  I can work from anywhere, but wonder whether or not I could still stay on top of the 7-5 MDT schedule.  I’d love to hear how it worked for you.

  • ludovic depaz

    The link to Smashrun is awsome!!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Glad you like it. I’m finding it to be really cool.

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