Oh, the places we'll go. Those places are typically the focus of our journeys--they determine whether we dread or dream of going there. Business? Pleasure? Does it matter? Beach? Sunshine? Vibrant city scene? Shopping? Now, we're talking. Whenever we go, we insist on the where (and the what the where has). What if we were focusing on the wrong destination? What if it were the people we meet who determine the value of our trip rather than the places we go?
Don't get me wrong, travel--the physical changing of your geographic location--is a wonderful thing. The search and visiting of new places--admiring foreign architecture, smelling new smells, hearing sounds, and standing in awe of natural wonders--brings learning and growth to our lives. But how much of our travel experiences are we leaving on the table? Here's a quick quiz: Think back to the last place you visited. Now, think about all of the people you met there. How many names can you recall? How many homes did you visit? How many home-cooked meals did you enjoy? How many people are you still in contact with?
What If...? has experienced tremendous growth in its first year of existence and it has seen even more opportunities open up. Little of this could have happened without traveling beyond the small town of Fulton, MO. However, none of the travel would have mattered without the people we connected with along our way. From the speakers and attendees at the BIF-8 Conference, to participants at a locally organized TEDx event, to the founder of the SociaLIGHT Conference in Toronto and all of the amazingly engaged, enthusiastic, and eager to help minds in attendance, none of it would have happened if without a trip I took without leaving my office.
What If...? began when a Westminster College student, Andrew R McHugh, paid a visit to my office to discuss this "crazy" idea we shared. Among other things, Andrew taught me about these things called TED Talks and how they have independently organized events. This lead us to discovering and attending a local, TEDx event. Of course, we both traveled to attend, but it wasn't the journey, as much as the people whom we met that let us know our idea wasn't so crazy after all. The organizers of that event, Cale Sears and Keith Politte, have since become mentors for What If...? Attendee, Heidi Fuhrman, with The League of Innovators, has helped plug us into the local startup scene. Also at the TEDx event was Jake Giessman, director of the Gifted Program at the Columbia Public School District. He put us in touch with one of his teachers, Matt Leuchtmann. Now, with the help of Jake and Matt, What If...? has a direct connection to the young minds of Columbia, MO. This March, they'll be putting on the first independently organized What If...? event. And they've invited us to be a part of the Future Problem Solving International Conference this June to share What If...? with schools from all over the globe so they can organize their own What If...? events.
But that's just the beginning of our travels: after hearing about our attending the TEDx event, a colleague of mine stopped by from down the hall and put me in touch with her sister-in-law, who happens to work for the Business Innovation Factory. This connection then helped us attend the BIF-8 Conference. The Conference was in Providence, R.I., but that didn't matter. It was the presenters and attendees who helped open the rest of the world to us. BIF attendee, Theresa Laurico, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of SociaLIGHT, invited us to attend her conference in Toronto. But, again, it turned out that Toronto was not our primary destination. At the SociaLIGHT Conference I met Agapi Stassinopoulos who is responsible for bringing What If...? here, to the Huffington Post. And thus, the ripple effect began and continues on. It's all held together, not by the places we went, but by the people we met. And the ripples are created by a combination of those who "get it" and those who care. Where will we go next? Who knows, but it cannot possibly compare to who we will meet once there.
So, what if that person sitting next to you, working down the hall, or standing across the way is the holder of your next job, fortune, or fun? What if it's not the places you'll go, but the people you meet?