When he gets writer's block, he hops on a plane

TUCSON, Ariz.

I WORK best out here in the desert sun, by a window overlooking a big saguaro cactus and a mesquite tree with a bird feeder that gets so much action that the whole scene looks like a Disney cartoon.

Simon Sinek, who is also working on a deadline to finish a book, has a different method of getting his work done. The poor guy has discovered that he works best — get this — on an airplane.

Now, I'm beginning to wonder if this may be some sort of a disturbing trend. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about David Topus, a consultant who takes airplane trips specifically to sit next to people so he can engage them in conversation, in hopes of winning them as clients.

Like Topus, Sinek, a motivational speaker and writer based in New York, takes airplane trips that have no purpose other than to be on the plane. Unlike Topus, Sinek wants to be alone.

His book, called Start With Why, to be published this fall by Portfolio, a Penguin Books imprint, is about the importance of motivating employees through intent, rather than just instruction. The manuscript is due in two weeks, which is serious motivation for him.

Late last year the speaking business slowed down. So did Sinek's overall productivity. "I couldn't understand why my productivity went down when I had deliberately made more time available to write," he told me. "Then I realized it was because I wasn't flying as much.

"Before, I'd sit on a plane and pull out a computer and start writing a speech or whatever," he said. "And on most planes, there are no plugs, so I'd open up my computer and wrote until the battery died. Because I had this pressure of knowing the battery would die, I wrote monumental amounts in short periods of time."

With the book deadline looming, Sinek decided he needed to get back on planes, even though he was not going anywhere specific. He practiced what he preached about motivation.

"I got on the phone with a Delta agent and said, 'Look, I'm writing a book. I do my most productive writing on airplanes, so can you help me find some flights so I can finish this thing?' I said, 'I don't care where I go. I just need to be in the air for three or 3 1/2 hours, and I need a cheap fare on a relatively empty flight.' "

Now, my assumption would be that airline clerks would roll their eyes and try to lose this guy, but the approach worked. Agents went to considerable effort to devise itineraries.

(It helps that airline passenger demand is down, obviously. While many high-demand routes are full as airlines shrink capacity and squeeze as many people as possible onto planes, others are taking off with lots of empty seats on certain routes.)

So in the last month, Sinek and his laptop hit the skies repeatedly. "I flew to Orlando and back, then Los Angeles and back, then Phoenix and back," he said, all on Delta, and all on cheap fares. "It's just me and the laptop, no other baggage. I landed in Los Angeles, grabbed something at the California Pizza Kitchen at the airport, and was on a flight back to New York within the hour."

Easy for a motivational speaker to say. I, on the other hand, have been having a difficult time lately booking flights. On Monday, I canceled a flight from Tucson to Newark because of the weather, and found that alternate flights later on were pretty solidly booked.

But Sinek is sticking to the personal relationship strategy. "When you explain to people what you're trying to do, as opposed to just making demands or delegating tasks, you can build instant trust, even if it's just for that short time you're on the phone," he said.

As to the phone, my Tucson phone line went out again this morning, and the repair guy hates it when he has to come here and carry a big ladder to the telephone pole 500 feet out back, through all those nasty cacti with needles that stick in his pants. I'll try to enlist him in the task to fix it right this time.

When he gets writer's block, he hops on a plane 03/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 21, 2009 4:31am]

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