Retreat Helps Business Professionals Learn To Be Creative Again
PSFK speaks to Will Travis, CEO of Elevation Barn, to understand a new experience that helps professionals love what they do by encouraging trust, building confidence and uniting people with their purpose
In a world where people are constantly bombarded with outside influences, pressure and information, losing one's purpose and direction personally and professionally isn't difficult. In business ventures in particular, people can feel a lack of confidence with the work that they do and the visions that they have for their projects.
Elevation Barn is a retreat that aims to change this, offering motivational experiences and education to creative professionals so that they can love what they do and grow their creativity. The company's CEO Will Travis sat down with PSFK founder Piers Fawkes for an interview and podcast about how Elevation Barn came to be and how it aims to address what Will describes as a confidence crisis that is taking the world by storm, helping people connect to their true purpose and achieve clarity on their future goals.
Piers: You created Elevation Barn, a three-day, three-night retreat for creative leaders. What are the broader trends that you see happening and the ones you're reacting to?
Will: I've spent the last 30 years building global brands. Now I'm actually spending the time building global brand builders, individuals who are building their own destinies and purpose. I'm finding that there's a lot of people who are in incredible opportunities in their careers, but that there's also a huge wavering in their confidence. They feel like they've got less skillset than they have. They've got all these years of brilliance to lean on, which they're not doing. The retreats are based on that confidence crisis I see going on.
There's so much stimulation going on daily from tweets, podcasts, snackable content, videos, one after the others. There are new diets, new health regimes, all these new activities. We're being bombarded with so much stuff that makes it so hard and people are hunting for their own purpose. How can the next chapter that they're working on be more exciting and more fueling than the last one?
I haven't been to one dinner party in the last month where somebody hasn't asked me about taking Ayahuasca. Everybody is looking inside and out for the inspiration, yet I believe the answer is actually in themselves. It's what makes them tick, what makes them happy—their purpose.
People are being impacted by the speed of business and how businesses are resourced today. I'm sure that's driving some of the anxiety as well.
Yeah. According to a report, something like 80% of people in the workplace are unhappy. When you get to findings like that, that's not a trend, that's a crisis. That's a seismic shift. It's just not the millennials who are packing up their bags after one year at one company, then going to another year at another company, and then setting off to go travel around the world and work out of hotels—it's everybody.
Everybody's looking for a new place to go that gives them happiness and a feeling of purpose. For the big corporations out there, this is probably one of the biggest fears they've got. How do we retain and how do you motivate people now so that they feel that they're playing a substantial part in life? It's just not based about how much we're paying them. It's based on how we're motivating their purpose in life.
You've been working to help the world's leading brands develop great design, advertising and communications. Recently, you decided to stop and set up Elevation Barn to help your peers. Can you explain what Elevation Barn is and why you started it?
Elevation Barn actually started when I gathered five other friends together that were hesitant and at the crossroads of their next stage in their careers. They were all successful. They were all doing great. They were all seemingly happy a lot of the time, but they were still waking up at 4:00 in the morning panicking, going, “What's next?”
I hosted the retreat here in upstate New York as well as in Indonesia. We do it in Asia as well as the U.S. When we did this retreat for these friends, I realized that it was actually myself as well who wasn't fully happy. I wasn't convinced about where my next chapter was. I realized the process I'd been using for these massive global brands—the Apples, the Facebooks, the Intels, the Googles etc.—was working to find the white space to make them stand out, to make their products and services distinct. I realized I should be helping individuals find out what their true purpose and what their white space was.
When I created this process, this three-night, three-day camaraderie of helping people elevate, I realized it wasn't just about individuals-elevating. It was about them doing a barn raising, where all six would work together, help each other from totally different perspectives, transform their beliefs of what they could do and help them power forwards with a new different definition of what they were going to do.
How does this manifest? What does a three-day session look like and what do people get out of that?
The first bit is coaching sessions, ceremonies and gurus who come in and help people. They're basically trying to fix problems you had as a child, or things that happened to you in the past. The way that I approach it is we've all got those. Everybody's got baggage. It's like a backpack. What I do is I try to hand-hold everybody through a process of getting on with each other. It's only small groups. Everybody unites, connects and feels the trust that they can actually be open.
The next phase is going through and celebrating all the epic things that they've done in life. It could be from watching their child being born, or it could be for giving birth, or it could be for starting a job at a certain age and succeeding in something. It's celebrating all these amazing things to realize what you're about. Life is usually like a backpack. What we do is, over time, we start filling that backpack with experiences. The longer you're filling it and the more things you fill it with, the heavier it becomes. It's supposed to make you feel lighter and more successful, but it actually starts to weigh you down. They're carrying this weight, this expectancy of society, this expectancy of the people they work with, the industry they're in.
The first day is basically giving them the confidence to take it off. Take off the backpack and have a look at all the things that they value, and get rid of the stuff in it that they don't. Get rid of that sort of perspective. That structure allows people's wings to start to unfold again. You can see their backs straighten, their eyes brighten and their smile spread with the whole process as it goes along.
Then there’s the second half of the process. I'm a big believer in design thinking, but what frustrates me is I see all these awesome advisory companies telling you how to think but not do. The second half of the retreat is actually doing it. How do we take all the things that you want to do, all the things that you value, all the things that you fear? How do we then break those down into bitesize chunks so that you can get clarity in your next stages of your journey?
Once you've done that, we then narrow it down into what your real vision is, your north star. We define what you want to do in life and then we work out how to get there. Who are the people whom you need around you who are going to help you do that? How do you get rid of the naysayers, the people who don't support you?
Then, we work on a process to leave the retreat, so that you feel like you’ve got this new Swiss Army knife of different ways to approach it that makes you feel awesome. I'm going to leave here being my true self as opposed to the person who walked in the door under this veneer of expectancy, of perspectives and of judgment.
Who's taking advantage of this? Who's staying at the barn?
Every single person who comes to the Elevation Barn has a great heart. That's the first priority. The egos have to be left at the door. I don't need somebody who’s just going to come in and overpower everybody or dictate, or whatever it is. You've got to be open. You're going to get the input from diverse people. The other people who are going to be there with you are people who are diverse in their background. The last one I held was a ladies' retreat two weeks ago upstate. There I had a lady who was the owner of a probiotic company. I had one of Chanel's top accessory designers. I had an ultra-marathon runner. I had a lady who owned a bone broth company, and I had a television executive.
That diversity of people prevents the deep dive into specific careers. You're not going to have somebody who is competing against the other person. I have no interest in that. I want this elevated up so you're actually thinking at a higher personal level. “Is this going to make me happy? Is this going to be inspiring? Is there going to be an element of fear in here in my next step because I'm pushing myself?”
There are some key elements that I ensure so that the results are a little nerve-racking. I don't mean you're going to have to do something dramatic. The changes that you may make may just be tweaks in what you're going now in your career, but that tweak is the big difference. The tweak is the difference that makes you super-motivated, versus just motivated.
Let's quickly touch upon your career. It sounds like you've found something that excites you. What's the roadmap for this project?
Elevation Barn is one of the five pillars of the elevation business that we're building. The Elevation Barn is creating modern-day Elvis, to be honest. It's helping those people who have the experience and they're refining that experience to become super-fueled and energized again. We want to take this all the way down to the high street. We want to take this so that it inspires people on a grassroots level to find their true purpose, to find the key ingredients that will help them become themselves.
There's a multi-dimensional element to this. You can't address a confidence crisis area with just one approach. You have to have different levels of the workforce addressed, from leadership all the way through to base activities, just so that everybody feels that they're motivated and happy. With the way the artificial intelligence, technologies and all thesse different evolutions of automation, there shouldn't be reasons why we're doing jobs that we don't want to do in the future. The only way that we're going to survive is doing things that we love or we want to do. That's the whole picture of the elevation platform.
When I was running global, creative, communication companies, I was trying to find these unique characteristic, perspectives, values, North Stars, white spaces, however you call it for products and services that have realistically no character or values. Yet, we were investing so much time and energy, making these things magnetic that it felt like a shame that people weren’t doing that for themselves. They'll go and invest a lot of money trying to get healthier or trying to be inspired, but you often don't spend time looking about what you're really about. Investing in what your future's going to be, what your vision's going to be, what your chapter's going to be included about.
You've got to make it feel as though you had a purpose while you've lived on the planet, in my mind. I feel you were born with a skill. We often smother that skill and that passion just by following the path that education, or businesses or other people that lead you dictate. That's a shame. Now we have the opportunity to allow people to paint their own pictures.
It's going to be exciting to see how you'll extend and evolve this elevation platform. Where can people find out more information about it?
Elevationbarn.com has some of the base stuff. What that will do is connect you directly to me and the team that's growing. Each step has a more calculated approach that's a two-way discussion on what you want to achieve. It's not a Tony Robbins, “Come and get motivated,” and then leave. This isn't just another shot of coffee. This system moves you to a different level that you then stay at. You keep working at and you grow from. It's not another motivational hit. It's a personal elevation platform.
PSFK is eager to watch how Will develops Elevation Barn and how he can inspire not only the folks at his retreats but also the wider community. For more from Will, listen to our podcast.