July 13, 2005

Laptop as Consultant Accessory

Sunday arrived and I was already heading back to San Francisco. It was too soon. Our furniture had just arrived and we were still unpacking. Well, mostly Stephen was unpacking - he has a great way of previsualizing the setup and making it happen, so who am I to argue. No one can believe that I let him setup my office without me being there. But if he didn't do it I'm certain that it would be two years before I decided to unpack the boxes. After all, the most important documents are uploaded to my internet briefcase.

As Director of Programs at Business Arts Council in San Francisco, I had had the opportunity to interview hundreds of Executive Directors and Board Members of nonprofit arts organizations. Lately I have been thinking about my meeting with a representative of Business Streetside Stories. The arts manager described how his organization had an "anxiety drawer", a place that you tuck away all the things that you can't deal with such as rejection letters, bills, and unfiled paperwork. I could easily see my office in Houston becoming the Anxiety Closet and the laptop being the “active files”.

On this first trip back to San Francisco, I am in a new phase - visiting consultant. I packed up my paper files, ones that I just lugged halfway across the country, the laptop and my best summer/winter San Francisco clothes. Now, 150 lbs. of paper, luggage and wrinkled clothes later I'm using only a notebook of lined paper. The beauty of the internet is the ability to upload your files and avoid all this schlepping. Plus, with internet cafes and constant access to computers I don’t need the laptop. But isn’t it the most important consultant accessory?

Yesterday we convened a Merchandise Committee meeting for the Hearts in San Francisco project. A consulting team from New York, experts in product merchandising, attended with laptop in hand. In advance I had let them know that we didn’t have a projector and that a paper PowerPoint presentation would work just fine. They brought the printouts but out came the laptop, like a giant wall between them and us sitting on the table. It is almost a shield to avoid too much eye contact with the prospective clients. In fact, one of the consultants said, “we like to know what the other side is thinking”. At one point they turned the laptop around for all of us to see but the room was too bright from all our California sunshine and everyone had to get up and crowd around it to see the image – which turned out to also be in the printed handouts.

Next trip to San Francisco, I’m de-accessorizing.