This year, Detroit, Michigan landed on Travel & Leisure’s “Best Places to Travel” list at #27. Since 2011, I’ve been traveling to Detroit regularly and was surprised, though pleased, to find it on the list. Ask anyone who lives and works in Detroit how they’re feeling about things and you’ll get spirited optimism mixed with pragmatic caution. There’s still a lot to do.
I began taking clients to Detroit to get them away from the saturated markets of New York and San Francisco, for meetings, retreats, “expeditions” and other [insert business jargon here]. It’s not easy to convince overworked executives that they should take their teams offsite to ruminate on innovation in a place that’s not a resort, doesn’t have a beach, or beds with 400-count Frette linens. But, that’s the point. Because it’s nearly impossible to understand markets, customers, or employees while sitting in a temperature-controlled ballroom with endless “refreshment breaks” and Powerpoint presentations, everyone dreaming of when they can hit the golf course. You need to hit the streets.
As a practice, we visit places we consider to be gritty and complex when working on a project - Oakland, Brooklyn, Houston, New Orleans, the underbelly of Los Angeles, to name a few - because we’re searching for the drivers of innovation, change, and creative thinking. We walk through neighborhoods, talk to locals and industry experts, dine in backroom kitchens, visit cultural institutions, and often wander off track. But we always know where we’re going (even the off-track is on track) and more importantly, where we want to end up when we wrap. The trick is finding the people and places who, somehow, show you the way to the future.
I've written about Detroit before, and though cities change all the time, the contrasts in the motor city continue to be striking.
Here's what I found on my recent trip.