Magical Mystery MasterMind Tour.
Stepping Out of your Three Foot Circle.
By Jeff Nischwitz. Think Again Coaching.
It was a bright sunny morning (albeit chilly) on the first Thursday in October, when I arrived at the airport for a scheduled two and a half day trip. I was flying out on a 7:30 a.m. flight and I would be returning at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday night. This was to be a fairly short and simple trip … except for one thing.
I was carrying two bags – my laptop bag and a single carry-on bag. Pretty easy packing since it was only a short trip … except for one thing.
This was a pleasure trip (no business this time), so I had two and a half days to enjoy myself, see some sights and experience the destination. I’m not much of a planner, but for such a short trip I certainly would have done some research about places to go, things to do and “can’t miss” experiences. Except for one thing … I didn’t know where I was going.
Yes, you read that correctly. When the seven of us arrived at the airport that morning, we did not know where we were going to land later that morning.
Thus began the inaugural Magical Mystery MasterMind Tour, an adventure that proved enlightening, engaging and what I have determined is a must do for all – in fact, I cannot wait to go on my next one.
The Idea – The Experience
For the past many years I have been blessed to be a part of a monthly MasterMind group of seven business owners and professionals who meet once a month to learn, to grow, to challenge, to listen, to experience, to seek, to discover, to support, and to shift our comfort zones. While our meeting format has changed over the years, the core concept is to support each other, to get feedback on issues or opportunities in our business or our lives, and to continually stretch our minds and challenge our thinking. I greatly value these gatherings and relationships, and this is the one meeting that I protect as sacrosanct each month.
This year we decided to shift our focus a bit into more experiences – opportunities to learn more about each other, to deepen our relationships; to take our learning beyond questions, listening and sharing. Our first experience this summer was an all day outing on Portage Lake, where we rented a pontoon boat and just spent the day together talking, sharing, exploring, and learning. And it was during these discussions that the Magical Mystery MasterMind Tour concept was hatched.
The idea was simple, but based upon sharing this idea with many people before, during and after the trip, apparently fairly unique. We would take a trip together to a random location without any plans, schedules, itineraries, accommodations, or transportation. We would show up at the airport and randomly select a destination that morning, and then explore the mystery location for several days together with the intention of having new experiences and seeing things through a different lens.
The First Glitch
After conducting some initial research we discovered a significant obstacle in our plan. Apparently … duh … it is not a good idea for 7 people to show up at the airport, randomly pick a destination (e.g., walk up to a counter and say we don’t care where we’re going but we need 7 seats), and buy our tickets that morning. We were advised that in employing this strategy we should expect to spend at least half the day with the TSA. Okay, so we had not thought that part through.
Like all good entrepreneurs, we found another way. We found (drafted) someone to randomly pick the location and buy the tickets for us with just a couple of parameters, like getting direct flights under a certain price. We were even open to something international.
With this first hurdle overcome, we locked in our travel dates and waited for the adventure to begin. Interestingly, when I told people about my upcoming mystery trip, the reactions were unequivocal and split (not equally). One out of three people insisted that the idea was great, asked to afterward know how it went and talked about doing their own version. And two out of three people said they did not think they could do it; they would not like the unknown, they were worried about how to pack, etc. So my informal survey said that 2 out of 3 people would be too risk-averse to undertake this adventure, while 1 out of 3 would be all aboard; nothing in the middle. I wonder what this tells us about people’s risk tolerances and how small some of our “boxes” just might be.
Howdeeee! We’re Heading to …
You would think that 7 grown men (well, mostly grown) would not get excited about the unknown, but we were all pretty pumped up when we gathered at the airport at 6:00 a.m. that Thursday morning and one of us said, “Let’s find out where we’re going.” That’s when it hit me that we truly were in for a surprise few days. We literally had a sealed envelope, which, when opened, revealed that we were heading to the home of the Grand Ole Opry (and Minnie Pearl), a replica (we now know) of the Parthenon, and home to a legendary music and party district. It was time to get ready for… Nashville, Tennessee!
As we boarded the flight, a few of the group jumped on their IPhones and IPads to start researching Nashville and what might be going on there while we were in town, but I chose to keep up the suspense. I did not want to figure out a schedule, but rather wait to see what would unfold on this adventure.
Arrival, Country Music and Sippin Time
When we arrived in Nashville we had to make our first decision: where are we going and how are we going to get there? Even this simple task was interesting in that each of us had different approaches in mind. One idea was to get on the first hotel bus we found and hope that they had rooms available. Another idea was to take a shuttle downtown to get our bearings. The winning suggestion was to rent a vehicle that would hold all 7 of us, thus assuring us the most freedom as possible. Picture this: 7 men (all wearing sunglasses) climbing into a black Suburban with tinted windows. Can you say Secret Service?
Being that we were in Nashville made our second decision an easy one. We would head to the Grand Ole Opry Resort. There we had breakfast, toured the massive facility, got lost (plus lost each other) and had our first Nashville conversation. When we told the resort employee about our trip, she was one of the first to say, “That sounds cool … but how did you know what to pack?”
From there we made our third key decision and headed down the highway to the Jack Danielsdistillery. What a history lesson. Though too much to share here, it was mind boggling to learn just how much whiskey Jack Daniels produces, how long they’ve been doing it in Lynchburg, TN (population less than 400), that Jack bought the distillery when he was 13 years old and that Lynchburg was and remains a dry county (so you can buy whiskey on the site but you cannot drink it). Interesting!
And several of us had a hidden gem conversation with the caretaker of the Old City Jail museum in downtown Lynchburg. The small building had served as both jail (from 1893 – 1990) and home to the Sheriff (and his family) and was stuffed with criminal and jail history and artifacts. The very reasonable entry fee ($1) was well worth the investment, and we were able to experience being behind bars inside the tiny cells. The caretaker not only shared the history and the legends, but we had a casual conversation about the history of Lynchburg and also his personal life journey. We learned about many things that none of us had ever heard of simply because we chose to take the time to engage in a conversation. A reminder of how important it is to take the time to interact with the people with whom we cross paths.
The Art of the Gift
After a night of music and festivities in downtown Nashville on Thursday night (Note: we were able to stay downtown, but it took quite a few calls to find a hotel), on Friday morning we decided to explore the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Our intention was to stir up our creative juices and to experience art as creativity more than just its visual outcome. The exhibits were stimulating and thought-provoking, but our gift at the art museum (and perhaps THE gift of the trip) came in the form of Mancil Ezell, the volunteer who worked at the information desk.
Each one of us had various conversations with Mancil, which ranged from art to the museum itself, to Nashville, to music, to food, to philanthropy, to life. Mancil was engaging, articulate, interesting and open. And did I mention blessed with a wonderful and somewhat sarcastic sense of humor? He also gave us several suggestions on things to experience in Nashville (including Symphony Hall … more on that later). By the way, Mancil loved the mystery trip idea and I fully expect that he’ll experience his own some time soon.
When we walked out of the museum after several hours, a couple of us commented that Mancil was the gift at the museum. We also pondered at how often people walked by Mancil without engaging with him. Maybe they asked him for directions or how to find the restrooms, but how many actually experienced his kindness, humor, insights, and wit? How many missed the experience of a lifetime in actually conversing with him? It was a powerful reminder that meaningful connections with another can spring up anywhere and at any time – we just have to be open, aware, and interested.
The Parthenon – What Rules!
Several of us toured the replica of the Greek Parthenon in a park just west of downtown Nashville. Apparently, a Centennial Exposition was held there in 1897 and the Parthenon was one of many structures built for this world’s fair type event. However, when the structures were being torn down, the city urged that the Parthenon replica be saved, and it was eventually rebuilt (to last) to the precise dimensions as the original Parthenon, including the fact that there are no straight angles on any of the walls.
Filled with art and Greek artifacts and history, the site was also flush with pictures and stories from the 1897 Exposition, which seemed to me the most interesting part. It was fascinating to see that event come alive in the pictures and to talk about the creativity with the group. One point of interest was that at the time of the Exposition Nashville was a dry town, meaning no alcohol could be served. So, someone came up with the brilliant idea to incorporate a separate town consisting of a single building within the Exposition area. That “town” would allow alcohol sales and so was the only spot in the city where a person could buy beer. Talk about seeing an obstacle and finding a way – big inspiration for a group of entrepreneurs like us.
The Symphony – What Locks!
While our three days were filled with experiences, perhaps the cherry on top experience came at the Nashville Symphony on Saturday morning. Mancil had told us that it was a must-see because it was state of the art and had an intricate system for removing the seating to turn the symphony hall into a ballroom. We had to see that.
When we arrived at the Symphony and asked to look around, security told us that the hall was closed, that the only tour of the day was over, and that we could not go in. We told him about the mystery trip in hopes he might allow us this minor indulgence, but he insisted that we could only explore the outdoor garden area.
As we explored the garden, like all good entrepreneurs, we took the security guard’s words as more of a suggestion than a directive. After checking several doors, we discovered one unlocked. We decided to create our own private tour of the Symphony Hall. After sitting for some time in the hall (experiencing complete and almost unnerving total silence), we still could not figure out how the seating system moved.
As we began to depart, we asked a young woman who was setting up for a wedding how the seating system worked. When she explained it and we still couldn’t visualize it she asked, “Would you like to see it?” You guessed it – we said YES! What followed was not only an underground tour of the seating removal system and hydraulic lifts, but a backstage tour of the kitchen, the back hallways, and a final arrival on stage.
What had begun with being refused admission had led to a guided private and backstage tour of part of the hall that I’m sure the regular tours never saw. It’s amazing what just a little bit of effort and “ignorance of the rules” can create. This experience was a personal reminder to me to not let others stop me on my journey. When someone tells me something can’t be done or won’t work, I respect and assess the input but I will choose to take it as more of a suggestion than a rule. Based upon our experience, I’d say the world needs more rule-breakers (or benders at the least), since the way we have been doing things (mostly following rules and perceived limitations) does not seem to be working. My guess is that very few of us will go to our death bed thinking that we should have followed more rules or listened to more limitations.
Why This Story?
Some of you may be wondering why I wrote an article about my trip. If that’s all you found in the story and stories, then you may have missed the magic that we experienced. The mystery trip was about creating a different experience and perspective, and it achieved its goal. During the entire time away I “saw” and experienced things differently than if the trip had been planned. The adventurous mindset was prevalent in everything I did. It was freeing, enlightening and opened my imagination. It also showed me new ways to push beyond my own comfort zone.
It was also a great reminder that we can connect with people anywhere, anytime and without an agenda. I don’t know if I will ever see Mancil again, but we wrote a glowing letter to the CEO of the museum about Mancil and I’m sure that each of us will seek him out the next time we’re in Nashville (and likely break bread with him).
The trip was also a great reminder of how narrow our views can be, how scheduled and predictable our lives can be and how important it is to throw out the box, break some rules, and get some stuff done (in many ways). My invitation to each of you is to change up what you do and how you do it, and then get ready to see yourself and the world in a different way.
Jeff Nischwitz, MasterMind member and Chief Question Officer of Think Again Coaching.
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