Five Ways Marketing Leaders Can Design “Innovation Vacations”

Summer brings opportunity for rejuvenation—to escape our ordinary routines, unplug, and discover our next big idea.

“Active adventure travel” is one of my core values and sources of inspiration. Some of my best business ideas were born alongside Central Oregon’s pristine lakes, Bermuda’s Harrington Sound, and the protected waters of La Jolla Cove.

Many senior marketing leaders return to a favorite summer destination for the same reason. Here’s what I’ve discovered about designing “innovation vacations,” from five marketing leaders who share their experiences.

1. Welcome wandering.

Attica JaquesIt’s tempting to fill your downtime with distractions. Attica Jaques, VP of Marketing for Gap, Inc., believes instead in the power of daydreaming and unstructured schedules.

During a recent trip to Turks and Caicos, Jaques learned about Google’s “Made With Code” initiative, which is designed to dramatically grow the percentage of college women majoring in Computer Science. She was immediately inspired. “Gap is also launching a campaign in partnership with Ellen DeGeneres that is aimed at empowering girls and breaking gender based stereotypes…I called a few friends at Google and scheduled time to discuss an idea for a partnership.”

2. Get moving.

Tim HillAn active outdoor vacation promotes social interaction and fun… and forces you to put away your smart phone.

Tim Hill, former President of Blackboard Global Marketing and Co-Founder of Channel Rocket, unplugs every summer at his family home on Kiawah Island, SC.

“One year ago, while entertaining friends on a golf trip, my business partner and I conducted demos of our SaaS platform and received invaluable insights. This resulted in the next version of our software which formed our new company – Channel Rocket. The natural backdrop of Kiawah Island was instrumental in this endeavor.”

3. Let your heart guide you.

John SaatyJohn Saaty, CMO of software services firm Decision Lens, returns every summer to his childhood home of Pittsburgh.

Saaty describes Pittsburgh as “innovation in action. It had to totally reinvent itself after the steel industry collapsed. Most people don’t know that Pittsburgh is the number three location for corporate headquarters in the US.”

Saaty gains sustenance from the “friendly, open attitude of the Pittsburgh people. You can take risks and innovate when the people surrounding you are accepting of failure.” Part of the reason he chose the entrepreneur path is that “no matter how bad it gets, the city and the people will still be there to catch me, help me heal, and send me out again into the world.”

4. Trim the sails, don’t build a ship.

Mark ThabitMark Thabit, CMO of global media intelligence company Cision, reminds us that innovation isn’t always about discovering a breakthrough. Lasting innovation can be incremental.

Every summer, Thabit sails in New York’s Long Island Sound. He finds that “tranquility, the ability to disconnect from it all, and interacting with the wind” inspires him. “In focusing on how to optimize boat speed through trimming the sails, I have been able to think about the small adjustments in demand generation programs that can have a larger impact on reaching our lead and conversion goals.”

5. Define “innovation vacation” on your own terms.

Daina Middleton TwitterDaina Middleton, Twitter’s Head of Global Business Marketing, surrounds herself daily with innovation inspiration: “My favorite summer getaway is actually not a getaway.  I travel every week for my job, so when I choose to get away, I go home. I live in a small town near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.”

For Middleton, the most important quality of full-time living in the Tetons is “disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with Mother Earth.  It’s important to me to breathe the mountain air into my soul, and to feel small.  It makes me better at what I do in the crazy, connected Silicon Valley. Walks in nature or riding my horse often cause me to think about a work situation differently.”

Oscar Wilde reminds us that “travel ennobles the spirit and does away with our prejudices.” When we are willing to suspend the demands and preconceived ideas of daily life, the possibilities for marketing innovation are endless.

This post was adapted from an article originally published on For the complete post, check out my Forbes CMO post here.

Do you have a favorite summer destination that inspires you? Share your thoughts below.

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