Finding Inspiration in One of America’s Oldest Cities

At the end of 2016, as part of our year-end wrap up and 2017 planning, Bukwild CEO Ryan Vanni challenged each department: If you could do anything to inspire your team in 2017, what would it be? As strategists, we’re required to draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources, but the common denominator that drives all of us is insight into human behavior. Meanwhile, the world at-large was reeling from the election results, and the very notion that any sort of predictive analysis of the population could generate meaningful insight was in question. As a small team of strategists, living in urban Northern California, what would inspire us and give us the confidence to give informed advice to our clients about the American people?

Nothing says team-building like cooking in a stranger’s house.

This is how we found ourselves in a friend-of-a-friend’s kitchen in Albuquerque, New Mexico, making homemade enchiladas from a family recipe, talking about home remodeling, the lost art of debate, and empowering people to fail… as children roller skated around us, laughing and carefree. Also, there were sopapillas. Which, if you don’t know, now you know.

Our answer to the above question, of course, was to get out of our bubble, and travel as a group to areas of the U.S. that felt distinctly unique from our city, and at least seemed like they held important pieces of American culture. Additionally, in order to actually get a feel for these places, we wanted to see if it was even possible to go somewhere for just a few days and get an ‘authentic’ experience.

For our first trip, we chose Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is steeped in history. It was established in 1607. For reference, New York City wasn’t established until 1624, and San Francisco more than a century later 1776. Billy the Kid. Westward Expansion. The literal wild west. What’s more quintessentially American than that?

Back to the enchiladas.

Luckily, while the world is big, it’s not that big. One of our team members had a family friend living in Albuquerque, and was kind enough to invite us into their home for a late lunch after our plane landed. Not only was the food and the company fantastic, they gave us some great advice of places to see and things to do, but more importantly, great conversation.

While I’m tempted to give a recap of everything we did, I feel like that’s kind of like looking at someone else’s vacation photos. It’s awesome if it was your trip, but patience wears thin when it’s not. I’ll sum it up as best I can: When you’re traveling, nothing beats a personal recommendation from locals. We talked to more friends living in Santa Fe, and got great advice from our rental hosts. We went to cliffside dwellings and learned about native society, we went to what felt like a local’s coffee shop and read the newspapers. We walked the neighborhoods, we went to the grocery store, and we checked out the new rail yard development.

New Mexico is an interesting slice of contemporary America. There’s the desert, there are mountains. There is precious little water. Agriculture, energy, science, a shifting manufacturing climate, tourism, art and film studios (see above), are key economic drivers. Additionally, there is a large Native American community, as well as an abundance of nondescript buildings with corrogated steel siding, behind razor wire fencing, and government signage making it clear that you need to move along now.

Did we learn anything that’s directly applicable to our jobs at Bukwild? That’s hard to quantify. But our clients are starting to ask us how we would speak differently on their behalf to users in various parts of the country. And while we can do surveys and gather data all day, none of that is of any value unless it can be parsed through insight, which only gets deeper when you get out and talk to people. Not about how they feel about a product, but how they feel.

And also, eat delicious food with them.