Travelling overseas always gives me new perspectives and opportunities to reflect.

My wife and I recently returned from a trip overseas in which easy access to the internet via our smart phones made renting a car and finding our way around a new place a very different and less stressful experience than just 10 years ago.  Now, if you take a wrong turn, Google Maps puts you back on the right path in seconds. There are even apps that will translate a menu or webpage and you can always look up ratings for everything.

In contrast, when a friend and I took a backpacking trip around Europe twenty (plus) years ago, we were armed only with traveler’s checks, a Let’s Go Europe book, a hostel card and a Eurail Pass. We made our way through Europe with no real plan or easy way to communicate with home.

In many cities we visited, we arrived late at night without a place to stay. We had to sort our way through a new train system, city maps and foreign languages just to find a suitable hostel with beds available – all things that would likely be performed today by an app.

None of our challenges were life-threatening, however they did require us to get out of our comfort zones, figure things out and immerse ourselves in the local culture. In retrospect, the experience was invaluable.

I recently read through the journal that I kept during our journey and it was eye-opening. As I read through my entries, I kept thinking “What would my parents have thought if they knew these details?” I then realized that because they didn’t/couldn’t know, we were both better off.

Reviewing my journal made me further appreciate that, although technology has many benefits, it can also have its drawbacks.

My daughter has realized this as well. During our trip, she sent us the opening of a speech she gave while at overnight camp titled, “Disconnecting to Connect.” She spoke about the benefits of being offline for most of the summer which gave her a chance to really connect with those around her.

I then had the disheartening realization that, should any of my kids choose to backpack around Europe (or anywhere for that matter), the reality is that they will never have the type of experience that I did.

They won’t have to translate, learn currency exchange rates, manage a limited money supply because funds aren’t easily accessible, read a paper fold-out map, find a hostel or experience the adventures that can come with getting lost in a new place.

A phone call or tap of a phone app makes things so easy.

Technology will help them, but it will also deprive them of important growth opportunities, especially at such a formative time to solve problems on their own.

As we rely more and more on AI and machine learning, it’s very likely that our own problem-solving abilities will deteriorate – at a time when cognitive, emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills will be needed most to compete for the jobs of the future.

Problem-solving is also rarely an individual endeavor. It’s often done in teams, creating a shared sense of purpose and accomplishment.

One of the highest-rated activities to date at Acceleration Partners was our Amazing race through Boston three years ago. Teams could not use any technology. They were given a list of activities to complete in a given time-period, a fixed budget for transportation, a map and some clues about each location. Everyone had to interact and solve problems in real-time and had an amazing time doing it.

What I’ve learned is that, in the end, when we don’t learn to solve little problems, we find ourselves getting derailed by speed bumps and unable to tackle bigger problems down the road.

What’s needed is a shift in our mindset to embrace the challenges before us and see problems as opportunities to learn, grow, connect and interact with the world around us in new ways.


Quote of the Week

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”

Theodore Rubin