- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Is it time for technology business leaders to get away from it all? The answer might well be yes if they want to grow their businesses and enhance creativity.
There is something to be said for having a face-to-face meeting among colleagues, or with major customers, in a setting sharply removed from routine. On a large scale, events such as FileMaker Inc.'s DevCon, or developers conference, drew about 2,000 enthusiasts to a hotel in the high desert of Southern California for four days of seminars, training sessions and knowledge sharing.
You can't do that remotely, certainly not as easily, even with a webcast.
On a more exclusive scale, one of the most beautiful spots in the Palm Springs desert, the Lodge at Rancho Mirage, is making its bid to host high-level technology meetings. The setting, on a plateau overlooking the Coachella Valley, is replete with amenities, attention to detail, and an ambiance that calls forth creative ideas.
Formerly a Ritz-Carlton, the Lodge is now owned by Rock Resorts, a long-established chain of top-drawer leisure properties accustomed to serving Hollywood's elite and others in the limelight. Smaller business meetings also are held there with great success. It hosted what I believe was one of the first technology conferences to feature wireless networking, now a staple at many events.
According to Herbert Spiegel, vice president of Rock Resorts and managing director of the Lodge at Rancho Mirage, enhancing the resort's technological features is a high priority.
"We are going through a total renovation of the entire property," Mr. Spiegel said. "We're taking it in phases, and our first stage is coming as we speak middle to end of October. Electronic communications will be a significant part of renovations in banquet rooms and guest rooms."
That means wireless Internet access in larger spaces and high-speed communications lines in the rooms. Such access is becoming more critical for the road warrior. Just recently, Starbucks and Hewlett-Packard teamed up to install wireless networking in hundreds of the coffee shop's locations. At a hotel, both wireless and in-room systems are required to keep travelers in touch with corporate networks. Just because you're removed from the day to day no longer means total isolation.
"Look at business tycoons making major business decisions from a yacht by satellite phone," Mr. Spiegel said. "Being in a specific location shouldn't really impact your ability to make decisions."
At the same time and I have observed this firsthand being in such a setting can spark both creativity and communications. The latter is a bit obvious: a technology conference can bring together makers, marketers, users and pundits to exchange ideas.
The creativity part is a bit subtler, but it is there, nonetheless. Whether it's a conference or a corporate retreat, being away from the cubicle and the ringing phone is itself liberating; interacting with colleagues and executives can enhance relationships and spark discussions. Just sitting at sunset and watching as the desert sky is painted with an array of vibrant colors can do wonders for perspective.
Mr. Spiegel noted that even with videoconferencing, there are advantages to face-to-face contact.
"There's nothing like meeting someone in person, shaking their hand and spending several days in building rapport and trust and faith with someone," he said. "If you're on the phone for five hours, it will never replace a lunch of an hour and a half and I hope it never will."

Write to: Mark Kellner c/o The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002. Send e-mail to [email protected], or visit his Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk to him live Fridays from 5 to 6 p.m. EST on www.adrenalineradio.com.

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