Author’s note: this post is about Brigadoon, an annual gathering of entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the Wasatch mountains of Utah. I’ve written it for those who have attended the event, or plan to in the coming years.
I’ve just completed a full week of retreat, rest, and reflection in the Wasatch mountains of Utah. It is the fourth time I have made an annual journey to attend Brigadoon at Sundance. Since my first visit, I fell in love with the idea, with the people I met there, with the location, and with the ideas. Since my first visit, I have not attended another conference, nor have I had much interest. Since the first visit, I have looked forward to returning to this summit of ideas and excellent conversation. These past four years have been a memorable experience. An indelible mark remains on my heart. But I’m not going back to Sundance next year. Before I tell you why, I want to share four things I have learned over the past four years of attendance, of presenting my own ideas, of conversation and shared experience, and of retreating to the mountains of Utah to take a deep breath.
Ideas appreciate in value over time: I first attended Brigadoon to deliver a keynote on The Future of Information Trafficking. It was a wonderful opportunity to synthesize several disparate ideas I had been following and cohesively present them to a room of smart, engaged professionals who shared my own level of curiosity and desire to find a higher level of professional acumen. It was my best effort to inject into the gathering some big ideas and begin a conversation. I had no expectation for a return on investment, but by the end of our time together, I was overloaded with new concepts, new points of view, new angles of looking at the same thing, discovery of concepts I had never considered, connections I had never made, and — in short — more ideas than I could process. I realized that the return on investment (ROI) for Brigadoon was not driven by an opportunity to meet someone who might become a client or an investor. The ROI was in ideas. Over the past four years, I have implemented plans, policies, and programs based on many of the ideas I captured while sitting in the Redford Conference Center listening to someone — who I would have otherwise never discovered — share his or her perspective on life and business. To this day, I hold a bank of ideas in reserve. They appreciate in value as my own ability to unlock what they mean for me and my business grows.
Conversation holds longer than a moment: One of the qualities of a true friendship is good conversation that transcends time and distance. Our best friends are the people who never change, and who can pick up where we left off, even if years have passed since the last encounter. As we age, our list of friends shrinks until we are left with only a core group of true, trusted relationships that most of us can count on one hand. It is a law of aging and relationship that we are all forced to obey. Yet Brigadoon is an exception. There is something about Sundance that suspends reality. There is something about this extended moment that the attendees of Brigadoon share together, if only for a brief while, that marks each of us. My first time at Brigadoon left me with more ideas I could handle and use; it also left me with a short list of new friendships that, though young and based on little more than a shared experience in the Wasatch mountains, would become part of a conversation that held for years, not just a moment.
Relational Equity: In the start up world, we often talk about equity. There’s sweat equity. Us founders are keenly aware of this type of equity; never count the cost! There’s equity as applied to the value of shares in a company. This is what an investor purchases hoping for a return in the future. Brigadoon taught me something about relational equity. This is a quality of fair and impartial treatment of one another. All walks of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness attend Brigadoon. There are red and blue states. There are red and blue companies. There are Atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and more than a few Mormons around. But there is no tension. No argument. I’ve always thought a sign of intelligence is the ability to rise above the baser sense of emotion and belief — indeed to suspend some of that stuff — in the higher calling of unity and relationship, even if for just a few days in Utah. Do this again and again, and it’s no wonder that relational equity builds between people who would otherwise not cross paths. I like to call these encounters, especially in those moments when a one-on-one conversation transcends time, happy collisions. Brigadoon is full of them.
People are people until they’re not: Most encounters we have with other humans are transactions. Usually there is a phone, a POS system, or an Internet connection between us. Our desire to dive deeper into the worm hole of our own digital avatars matches the pace at which technology has replaced real relationships with binary code. Not in Utah. Brigadoon is tech savvy but decidedly analogue. There are no power points, and never will be. The presentations are more toastmasters than not. Faces and hands provide animation, not CGI. And while we do often talk about bitcoin, distributed ledgers, machine learning, and broad vs. narrow artificial intelligence, it was all pencil and paper, with a fireplace in the backdrop, not a screen. Brigadoon attendees are forced to be real. We can’t hide behind laptops or cell phones because there is really no Internet or cell phone connection to speak of. Even if there were, you wouldn’t want to because the person across the table, or standing in front of you, just said something you never thought you’d hear. Rapt attention was the involuntary response. Or, she told you something more personal you never thought you’d say yourself — I’ve rarely laughed and cried in such succession within such a short amount of time. Or someone just explained something to you that you never thought you would understand (like blockchain), while leaning against a bar sipping club soda with a twist of lime. People are just people until they’re not. Brigadoon has always been and will always be a place where masks are removed, reality takes hold, and the attendees give themselves to the moment, where the mountains set your do not disturb mode not a swipe on your hand held device.
I know what you’re thinking. I’ve waxed romantic. And maybe I have a little. But for a good reason. I’m not going back; it’s bittersweet.
So I’ve laid bare before you the top four reasons why I love attending this retreat (yes, I’m not calling it a conference). Why am I not going back?
I’m not going back in 2020 because I want you to have a chance to experience what I’m talking about. I’m not going back because I can thankfully attend a Brigadoon Salon dinner and hug my old friends. Finally, I’m not going back because I want to spend my time and effort in working with Brigadoon’s founder and ambassadors to develop something special under the Brigadoon brand in Scotland (stay tuned).
And I’m not going back because I don’t need to go to Utah to achieve all those things you just read. We can all do everything I described above on our own, in our own space. As the founder of Brigadoon often likes to say — with a little tongue in cheek to spare — “go start your own retreat!” But we always say we don’t want to because he already did. And the truth is, we probably couldn’t do it better. So hat’s off to you, Marc A. Ross, and thank you for a good run. I loved it.
See you in Scotland.