Most fliers ignore their seatmates, perhaps to avoid hearing someone's life story. Or because they'd rather read the latest whodunit. But what if that life story is fascinating and the seatmate is someone you could learn a lot from? Or just have fun talking to? Do we miss out by putting on those headphones?
In an interview a while back in the Financial Times, the CEO of Dior Couture, Sidney Toledano, tells his interlocutor , "I took a plane one day and I was sitting beside a young man, thirtysomething years old. As soon as we took off he took out his laptop. He didn't say even hello to me. I never take documents with me because I don't want to be spied on. And I like to talk to people. This guy was working in the luxury industry. He didn't look at me at all. It's not that he should have recognized me. But he could have talked with me, maybe got an opportunity for a job, learned something."
I've often thought the same thing. When I see a young techie hacking away on a laptop, doing his or her best to pretend I'm not there during a 6 or 10 or 12 hour flight, I sometimes think to myself "I wonder what we could learn from each other." I could impart the joys and challenges of bootstrapping a multi-million dollar brand in my living room. And who knows what I would gain?
Which reminds me of this post from a few years back, in which I decry our reluctance to even acknowledge the existence of those sitting next to us, with as much as a nod or "good morning," and for which I was ridiculed by a few less kind souls. But I still stand by it.
And Mr. Toledano, I'd be honored to chat with you for however long you like should I ever find myself sitting next to you on a plane.