En route to Alptitude USA in Mount Hood, Oregon.

Why The Hardest Thing To Do Is Nothing

Create some space and watch the magic unfold

Laurence McCahill
Published in
5 min readOct 26, 2017


Since we launched The Happy Startup School in 2012 we’ve hosted more than 100 events: dozens of meetups and workshops, five startup festivals and six week-long retreats around the world.

However it’s only in the last two years that we’ve stumbled across a formula that works amazingly well, and consistently creates life changing impact for those that come.

We’re just back from the latest one of these events – Alptitude where 25 entrepreneurs from around the world gather for 7 days – and have been proven right yet again.

Which tells me it just can’t be a fluke.

“These guys have mastered the art of igniting collective inspiration, support and trust, magically between strangers.” Nisha Bora, India

Looking back I now realise just how much we’ve learnt since our first few events and can pinpoint the success of these down to four key elements:

  • People
    Get the right folks present and you’re halfway there
  • Setting
    Great ideas don’t happen in the boardroom, but in the outdoors
  • Space
    Leave room for new ideas and breakthroughs to emerge
  • Hosting
    How you show up as host shows others the way

The trouble is most event organisers pack the schedule with content, let anyone in if they’ll pay and host them in unimaginative inner city venues. Mainly because it’s the easy option and they want to know for certain what will happen, so people know what they’re paying for.

But they’re playing it too safe.

Taking a different approach

When thinking up the format for Alptitude in 2015 we started with a simple question:

“Given the best part of events tends to be the ‘in-between’ bits, what would happen if we created a week-long experience with just these?”

The answer, as it turns out, is mind blowing.

  • Despite there being no talks, incredible stories are shared
  • Despite there being no workshops, learning is all around
  • Despite there being no ‘networking’, lifelong connections are made

And instead of boring inner city venues we choose places like this…

Mirror Lake, Oregon

“They say heaven doesn’t exist. It does and I’ve just been there. It’s called Alptitude.” Kumaran Mani

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the last 5 years it’s that the scariest thing to do is when organising an event is to create large amounts of space in the schedule — and then get out of the way.

But paradoxically that’s where the real magic happens. If you let it.

Scott Wolovich from New Sun Rising in Pittsburgh shares his Alptitude experience in Oregon

Trusting the process (and the people)

For certain problems, knowledge is best delivered from expert to student. However in this constantly changing world we live in – and particularly with the big questions we ask ourselves about life and business – we’re seeing that no one person has the answers.

“No one of us is as smart as all of us” Ken Branchard

In Oregon we got yet another glimpse of what’s possible with the right people, the right setting and the right intention:

  • Strangers turn into friends
  • Knowledge becomes power
  • Dreams turn into reality
  • Ideas become habits

So what *actually* happened?

People often ask us this about these events. Well, here’s just some of what I can recall from those 7 days (you could put these in the play category):

  • We cycled through wine country (and got chased by wasps)
  • We gazed at the starriest of skies
  • We practised yoga
  • We learnt Qigong
  • We rafted down ravines and plunged into water that was snow 10 hours ago
  • We met wildlife in the wilderness
  • We heard wolves howling
  • We hiked in bear country, visiting lakes and awe-inspiring waterfalls
  • We sang songs by the fire
  • We picked apples
  • We took part in a sound bath (no, me neither…)
  • We threw snowballs on a frozen lake
  • We visited microbreweries
  • We ate BBQ and dined on local seafood
  • We talked and talked and talked and talked
Peer to peer mentoring

Yeah but did anyone actually get anything done?

Well, about that.

In those gaping holes in the schedule we saw the following emerge (you could put these in the work category, although in truth it all felt like play):

  • How to create an online course
  • The 6 components of company culture
  • How to launch a podcast
  • How to grow your tribe using Medium
  • A simple framework for your elevator pitch
  • Brand strategy 101
  • Money and you
  • How to pitch and plan a book
  • The power of storytelling for your business
  • The art of listening for masterful conversations
  • Brainstorming using the Spark File technique
  • Writing your own obituary
  • Parenting and entrepreneurship

All put forward and offered by members of the group. No keynote speakers required.

Impromtu promo video filming

We also saw other ideas emerge

  • More than 20 peer-to-peer mentoring sessions happened on the final day
  • Someone hosted a rib-tickling pub quiz
  • Another wrote chapters for their upcoming book
  • A bunch of promo videos were filmed
  • Books, films and other brain food was shared
  • Not to mention the thousands of meaningful conversations whether over food, on a hike, on the road or river

All of this in just 7 days, with no agenda.

Just a group of entrepreneurs and visionaries committed to making a positive dent in the world who trusted in us. Those that, like us, understand that there’s no professional development without personal development.

Thank you Alptitude for reminding me of the power of people and the importance of space.

🗻The next Alptitude takes place in Europe in June, 2024 — just 15 places are available. Pre-register here

Alptitude USA class of 2017



Laurence McCahill

Designer, coach, entrepreneur. Co-founder The Happy Startup School.