The following is an excerpt from the book Make No Small Plans, a story about four best friends and their up and down journey of trying to build their own business.
Finally, we felt like we belonged in the room.
It seemed we had finally made a splash in New York. The natural thing for us to do would have been to stick it out in the city… But we were firm believers in growth over comfort, and we felt we had stretched ourselves as far as we could in Manhattan.
So with what little money we had left from our Aspen event profits, we decided it was time to hit the road…. Inspired by Tim Ferriss’s bestselling The 4–Hour Workweek, we spontaneously bought one-way tickets to Central America and bounded off.
Tim’s book is filled with tips on how to set up your business in a remote place abroad where you can get the most out of your dollar. There was very little in those 424 pages to prepare us for the scorpions and lightning storms that were coming our way, but it did teach us something even more valuable: Throw off the bowlines. The line originates from a Mark Twain quote. The bowlines refer to the ropes that hold a ship safely to the dock, and the idea is that by cutting ties with the safety of shore and sailing off into the ocean despite the risk, one can find new discoveries and adventures. Similarly, we felt that once you leave the comforts of home, you open yourself up to new opportunities and can stretch yourself to evolve into somebody new. If you stay comfortable, you won’t discover new parts of yourself. And we knew the unworldly selves who were sleeping in bunk beds in New York weren’t the ones we wanted to continue being…
Once we settled into our new home, we quickly got into a rhythm and realized how hyper-efficient we became without the usual distractions. We put in long hours and got a lot accomplished, all the while surfing, eating healthy, and diving into books like Be Here Now by Ram Dass and travelers’ classics like The Alchemist and Shantaram. We got introduced to meditation; talked about ideas big and small, practical and crazy, late into the night; and truly bonded. Instead of moving from meeting to meeting in New York City and reacting to opportunities, we spent time thinking about our long-term vision for Summit and focused on creating our next event…. It was a time of great personal growth. We were open to each other’s thoughts, and that was crucial when a storm pushed us to take a hard look at what we were creating.
We were surfing one afternoon when we saw a vivid flash of lightning followed by a crack of thunder in the distance.
Electrical storms are beautiful to look at from behind the safety of a windowpane, but out in the open ocean? Not so much.
The four of us huddled up on our surfboards to talk over the dangers. When some of us started to panic, Elliott reassured us that there was no need to worry about our imminent electrocution. We just had to use a simple formula to determine how far the lightning strikes were from us: count the seconds between the lightning flash and the sound of thunder. Every second, according to this formula, meant the lightning was a mile away.
The next time we saw the lightning, we counted five seconds before we heard the lightning. That meant the storm was five miles away—far enough to let us keep surfing. But the next time we saw lightning, it seemed closer, and the thunder sounded two seconds later. According to the formula, the lightning was still two miles away.
This method would have worked well, except we were using the wrong formula. As it turned out, for every second between the lightning and the thunder, the storm is actually one-fifth of a mile away. That explained why the lightning seemed to be striking so ominously from almost directly overhead.
We realized that something was wrong and that we had to get back to land immediately. The wind was whipping the crests of the waves into our faces. We frantically hopped back into the tiny tin boat we had rented for the day to access the surf break—in hindsight, maybe not the best material for a boat that day—to motor out of the cove and back to the harbor. The storm was enveloping everything around us. Elliott had his feet on a life preserver, somehow hoping the electricity wouldn’t come through it if lightning struck next to the metal boat. When the lightning flashed, it felt like we could feel the hair on our bodies singe.
We cut through the water as fast as our little motor would churn, not knowing when or where the next lightning bolt would strike. It felt like we were playing Russian roulette with the sky. Seconds felt like hours as we crept our way along the shoreline until finally the harbor came into view. Inch by inch, we plowed toward the shoreline as deafening cracks of thunder raged above us. Then, in a burst of joy, we finally reached the dock, handing out hugs of gratitude as we ran inside for shelter, sopping wet from rain, seawater, and fearful sweat.
That moment was a reminder for us to check in with ourselves and the direction we were headed. What couldn’t we see on the horizon? What incorrect assumptions were we making? How could something potentially go wrong? Remembering to readjust our formula became an important metaphor as we prepared for our next event in Miami…
From that moment on, we were no longer only about gathering entrepreneurs to meet one another. We began to call our attendee base and ask them what kind of content they wanted. We realized that everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn. We needed to look at the many disciplines that our community covered and find material that would benefit all of our attendees. We needed to allow them to choose their own adventure.
By taking apart the old formula, we forced ourselves to create many new ones.