Wanderlust: wandering to every corner of the earth is a way of life
While worldwide mobility has increased manyfold over the last century, frequent travellers remains somewhat of a social oddity that produces amazement and envy. No matter how many copies of National Geographic you own, or how often you search for the seven wonders of the world on Google Images, long-distance, transatlantic travel has remained the exception, not the rule.
Over the last few years I've had the chance to travel quite a bit. First I emceed and managed editorial production for Mosaic's summer school on Management of Creativity, which led me to organize Strasbourg's own Fall School on Creativity. I went to Belgium for its ID Camp, gave conferences in Athens, Stockholm, London, Madrid. In October 2014, I was invited to emcee the very first edition of Creative Bangkok, and again in February 2015 to teach.
I'm not writing this to brag. What I'm getting to is that, no matter where these things happened, place mattered. I went there, to do something specifically. In the case of most university programs, place was not only the setting, but one of the topics of interest: creative cities, clusters, keiretsus… In each of these projects, I was in-touch with nationals, locals, heads of cities and heads of cities. We went to headquarters.
Rotting in your office
It wasn't until very recently though that I realized that, while it is very fun to travel to somewhere for work, some people have actually turned this into a lifestyle. But between these highly creative people — whom Richard Florida would call bohemians — and myself, a striking difference: the place where they are does not affect their ability to do the work.
They are, in other words, nomads. Digital nomads.
One of them is my friend Daniel Mireault, with whom I had the chance to connect while in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. Daniel is a Montreal-based designer who spends several months a year in Southeast Asia. He prefers the weather, certainly, but also the lifestyle; it is laid back, but also more fluid. The city of Chiang Mai boasts several coworking spaces like the two Punspace installations, as well as the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab, in partnership with Stanford University.
In Chiang Mai, you can find underground cafés that make you feel like you're in Brooklyn such as the Overstand Cafe (owned and operated by a Kiwi, actually), as well as 10-dollar full-body massages and secret backyard restaurants. Chez Marco will serve you a proper glass of Bordeaux for a decent price.
In Thailand, many such nomads and bohemians are to be found in semi-permanent stages of their lives. A German-born physicist who moved to Barcelona as an event organizer, married a Catalan before coming to Bangkok. "I teach leadership", says she. But when asked where "home" is, she marks a pause, and changes the subject.
Among those worldly workers is cllbr collaborator Nancy Le Nezet, who moved to Bangkok after spending several years in London. Nancy earned her Ph.D. from Lyon University, in France.
In other words, to paraphrase Mashable's recent piece on the topic, these people travel the world while you rot in your office.
Are they singularly different from others? Perhaps. The Elite Daily wrote recently that it may have to do with people's DNA… but let's leave it at that. Post-modern eugenics isn't my cup of tea.
Engaging the nomads
A former hotel executive now Managing director at Digital Innovation Asia, Olivier Dombey knows a thing or two about engaging with this new generation of uprooted creatives.
While we may feel admirative and chose to celebrate the freedom inherent to the nomad lifestyle, some brands are hoping to take advantage of these well traveled individuals. As they wander around the world, these bohemians are ideally positioned to produce extraordinary content for travel blogs, are sufficiently influential to provide credible hotel reviews, and can act as sources of observations, ideas, and innovations opportunities.
Many are obviously looking out for free lunches. But over the years, Dombey has developed a series of principles in order to structure his deals with contributing digital nomads, namely :
1) Transparency, honesty and respect in the determination of contracts : there will be no free lunches, money will be paid in full, and editorial independence is quintessential ;
2) Remain supportive at all times : digital nomads face unexpected situations all the time. Flexibility and support in the face of adversity is key to build sustainable relationships ;
3) Remain relevant : respect that nomads have fields of expertise, and while it may be tempting to ask them to cover all aspects at once for cost efficiency, it may prove counterproductive in the long run
4) Set clear goals.
Interestingly, these principles may also apply to any long-distance, arm's length relationship between a client and a provider. Certainly, graphic designers, video editors, web developers who have chosen the digital nomad lifestyle will feel strongly towards these.
And if the increasing popularity of this new nomadism is any indication of things to come, we better start developing the reflexes to engage with them.
More from Francis' Bangkok series: