5 Ways Paris Inspires Innovation Without Even Trying

Ooh la la, The City of Lights. Cultural center for artists, authors, philosophers, fashion, food and abundant “je ne sais quoi.” And in 1889, as a result of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel’s extraordinary vision that challenged architectural status quo, home to the iconic tower that stands tall today as a testament to the idea that anything is possible.

Travel is an excellent way to gain fresh perspective, shake loose new ideas buried in until-then untapped corners of your brain, and fire up neural connections that help us solve our stickiest challenges.
I recently celebrated my birthday in Paris, a soiree with friends in an historic apartment (well, mostly on the balcony of the historic apartment) overlooking the implausibly stunning Eiffel Tower, complete with a farm market fresh menu and Bastille Day fireworks. It was a joyful holiday and the trip delivered unexpected professional inspiration, too.

Here are five things we can borrow from Parisian life to fuel innovation at home.

  1. Visit cafés. If you’ve been to Paris, you know well the abundance of cafes with sidewalk seating. This observation is sort of a two-for-one. First, the tables are outdoors. Year-round. There is nothing like fresh air (even if warmed with a propane heater in the winter) to rekindle our senses. Second, all the chairs face OUTWARD. What better way to see what’s happening in the world than to look out into it? This seating reminds us to look beyond the familiar, beyond the things and people we already know, and to see what else is out there, to the unexpected people or ideas that might come our way if we are open to them.

  2. Practice la langue. (The language). Je ne parle qu’un petit peu de francais. (I only speak a bit of French.) Here’s what great about this—it means I need to try alternate words, expressions, gestures to communicate. Just like in our own native tongue, when we don’t know (or can’t quite remember) the word for something, we work around it, and use alternate words to express our meaning. For example, I was trying to remember the word robinet (faucet) and instead needed to say “la chose dont nous recevons de l'eau a la salle de bain” (the thing from which we get water in the bathroom). This reminds us there is more than one path to success. This encourages us to just get started. We can—and will—get there even we don’t know the most direct path from the beginning.

  3. Embrace limitations. It’s a common problem for hosts of parties in French homes—the refrigerator isn’t large enough to hold the food and beverages for the event. Easy, daily access to fresh food, from the city’s abundant and ubiquitous farm markets, for example, means people don’t routinely need to buy and store large amounts of food in advance of cooking and serving it. On the day of a festive soiree, however, it would be helpful if le frigo could hold the appetizers, white wine, cheese, pate and butter (ooh la la, French butter). Since they often cannot, the host or hostess must get creative, scheduling the purchase of key items closer to the start of the party, having friends bring ingredients, adding a plug-in cooler in a corner of another room for the Perrier, and so on. Our workplace limitations don’t typically prevent us from keeping our pate de campagne chilled until sunset; they more likely represent insufficient budgets, small staff or time constraints. Limitations help us be more creative and solve our business challenges in new ways, forcing us to think outside the box (or le frigo) to get the job done.

  4. Walk. Sometimes when we’re visiting a new place, we start out with our destination in mind and are so eager to get there, we hop in the car and speed to the finish. In Paris, some of the most rewarding moments come from going “off road,” which in this urban setting means going by foot. When we are walking, we have more time to really see what’s right in front of us. We can easily slip through a passageway to discover architectural wonders, hidden shops or specialty bakeries we would never have found from the backseat of a taxi. The reminder here is it really is ok to slow down sometimes so we’ve room to explore, see a new angle and make our own detours as a path to discovery. When we race to the finish, it’s easy to miss opportunities that can enrich the experience.

  5. Be open. Serendipity is a gift for innovation! One evening, one of the families with whom we were traveling invited us to join them in climbing the Eiffel Tower. The most iconic structure in The City of Lights and symbol of everything French! Of course we'd join them, we said! So we tried—and failed—to get tickets to join them that evening. Alas, we opted to skip the attraction (and the hours-long wait in line with our six year old son). As luck would have it, our Parisian friends texted us to share they were in “our” neighborhood, asking would we like to get together with them and their young sons? Instead of battling the crowded throng of tourists at the Tower, we sipped a glass of chilled Sancerre with locals, which turned into dinner and a play date with their sons, which turned into one of my favorite nights of the entire vacation. We walked (see #4 above) to a nearby café that welcomed children (see #3 above) where we sat outside (see #1 above) where the waiter was exceptionally friendly as I ordered for the table to practice my French (see #2 above). By being open to new possibilities, we were generously rewarded. We enjoyed a beautiful evening outdoors, nurtured our relationship with friends, satisfied our palette with Parisian cuisine and created memories we will carry with us for a long time. Maybe we’ll go inside the Eiffel Tower on our next visit to Paris. Or maybe we won’t…

If you won’t have a chance to visit Paris this season and would still like to bring some French joie de vivre and je ne sais quoi to your team and your work, we’d love to explore the possibilities with you. Drop us a line any time. A bientot!