The Magic of BK Authors Retreats

I recently participated in a unique event in all the world: the Ninth Annual Berrett-Koehler Authors Retreat, which was held from October 7 – 10 at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center in Reisterstown, Maryland. Several factors make this annual retreat unique, including the many ways that fun and meaning are combined with learning and connection, the fact that it is entirely organized and run by authors for authors, and the fact that its sponsoring organization, the BK Authors Cooperative, is the first of its kind in the world as far as I know.

Each year, magic truly happens at the retreat. To give a glimpse of this magic, I asked seven BK authors (including five who were first-time participants in the retreat) to share their experience of the retreat. Their comments are below. Also below are comments from new BK editor Neal Maillet, who has seen a lot in his 22-year publishing career but was nevertheless amazed by the retreat. And Bruce Rosenstein blogged about the retreat; here’s a link to his blog (which includes responses from several retreat participants).

The importance and influence of the retreat go far beyond what happens at the retreat itself. In part this is because every year friendships are formed between retreat participants that go on for years and that often lead to these new friends sharing speaking and consulting leads, recommending each others’ work, and even collaborating on projects. But I think that there is a still bigger and wider impact of the retreat: in many ways the retreat is a microcosm of what Berrett-Koehler is about. The retreat creates and models patterns that permeate many dimensions of BK and that reach beyond BK’s authors into its broader community and the messages of its publications. Some of these patterns are:

• Unity around a common purpose and mission of “creating a world that works for all.” BK books address hundreds of different topics, yet almost all BK authors see their work as contributing to this common purpose.

• A welcoming community.
Part of the magic of the retreat is that most participants feel a vibrant sense of community while new participants are welcomed warmly into this community. This is due partly to the engaging personalities of many participants, but I believe that it is due even more to the sense of shared purpose that permeates those who are attracted to the BK mission of creating a world that works for all. As Mark Albion observes below, “I belong within a community of authors of different minds sharing one heart.”

• Desire to help, serve, and share.
The pattern in evidence at the retreat and throughout the BK community is of people being exceptionally generous in reaching out in many ways to help others in need.

• Openness to learning and teaching. Participants in the retreats see themselves as simultaneously both learning from others and sharing their unique talents and perspectives. Everyone has much to learn and much to teach.

• The power of integration.
At every retreat I have been struck by how well different types of authors connect with each other and how much they learn from each other: academics and practitioners, old and young, new and experienced, progressive and conservative, business authors and personal growth authors, societal change authors and organizational change authors, etc. I have concluded that much of the value of the retreat – and the power of BK’s publishing program generally – comes from bringing together these diverse perspectives under the umbrella of a welcoming community and common mission. This integration happens on many levels and in many ways.

I am confident that future retreats will continue to develop these and other powerful patterns – both in making the retreats a phenomenal experience for participants and in leavening the entire BK community, publishing program, and impact on the world.

If you are a BK author, I hope that you will plan on participating in the next retreat, scheduled for September 8 – 11, 2011, at the Stillheart Institute, nestled in the Redwoods just south of San Francisco. You can learn more here.

If you are not a BK author and would like to attend the retreat, a few spaces will be available for other members of the BK community who are sponsored by a BK author and granted associate membership in the BK Authors Cooperative; if this is of interest to you, contact a BK author about sponsoring you.

To get more of a feel for the retreat, here are some photos from the last retreat.

All the best,


“Generosity is a gift that is genuine and rewarding. The generosity of my fellow authors was overwhelming. As a first-time attendee at the Berrett-Koehler Authors Retreat you are not sure what to expect. Very quickly any concerns vanish. The warmth and complete acceptance replace all the fears. As the retreat goes on, generous gifts of friendship, suggestions, and coaching begin to fill you. Soon you realize that you belong with these people and you feel joy and a sense of renewal. What more could you want except to eagerly await next year's retreat.”-- Dave Basarab

“What I enjoyed most about the retreat was seeing the deep friendships that have been formed between BK authors over the years. All the laughter, the gentle teasing, and the sense of camaraderie were great. Also appreciated the warm welcome that I received."-- Suchi Shenoy

“I want you to know that the retreat was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt I was watching a 'better world for all' unfold before my eyes, and I’ll never use the term 'BK community' in the abstract again. I don’t think I fully understood until the weekend how the strength of our publishing comes from this community. Nor did I understand how this community would support me and nurture me, personally. I now understand how BK will help me become a better person, not just pay my salary. I know I must sound like I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but there really is something special about this place and our mission.” -- Neal Maillet (new BK Executive Editor)

“The retreat reconnects me with spirit and community. It causes me to remember who I am and where I belong within a community of authors of different minds sharing one heart. Through the trials, tribulations, and financial struggles of being an author, the retreat reinvigorates me to the beauty and honor of what we do.” -- Mark Albion

“I had a wonderful time at the retreat. It's rare to be in a group of people who are simultaneously brilliant, welcoming, aspirational, curious, and fun. The design of the retreat created space for all of these qualities to bloom among and within us. I can't believe that one weekend could include such a range of experience. How did we manage to travel from pragmatic information to community building to world changing so effortlessly? How did we do all of those things and still have time to rest and play? I'm honored to be part of this community.” -- Barbara McAfee

“The BK Author’s Retreat was everything I hoped it would be and more. Smart, caring, and creative people who were willing to share their experiences, not to mention their books. Provocative team building exercises that built trust and broke the ice in a nice way. And even the opportunity to make my ‘Maryland shore’ solo singing debut at Saturday night’s talent show. Thanks for such a nice way to welcome me into this extraordinary community of professionals.” -- Jacquie Ottman

“I had a fabulous time at the retreat. As a first-time author, I felt enormous gratitude for the warmth and the welcome that the BK authors community offered. People were unexpectedly generous with their encouragement, ideas, lessons learned, and networks of relationships. Of course, the highlights had nothing to do with writing or selling books. The highlights were what happens when people who trust one another and share a vision of how the world could be let their guard down enough to stuff their cheeks with marshmallows, dance on four-inch high rails, and sing ‘Lasagna!’ at the top of their lungs. So much for being intimidated by BK authors!” -- Debbie Frieze

“If I could prescribe a population of people with whom I could spend my life, it would be the BK authors community. For me, this particular retreat was no less than a spiritual hot tub, where I felt surrounded by trusted and trusting friends, amidst the swirl of warm waters. I attend the authors retreats knowing that I will come away smarter, wiser, and more attuned to what really matters in the world. This one was no exception. The last line of the Identity Credo is, I will receive in accordance with what I give. I came to the retreat knowing full well that I had an obligation to give – to give something of value, something meaningful and, hopefully, lasting – which might entitle me to receive the same in return. I did. And, I did. This retreat reached a new level of joyfulness…there was a vibe from the outset that resonated during our time together. I think what happened more this time than ever before was the marriage of intellect and emotion. There were, for sure, great conversations about important ideas. But there was more; there was the deliberate intrusion of beautiful music, in voice and instruments. There was a native humanness that interceded, penetrating the meetings, the structure and earnest conversations, which are always present in our retreats. For me, a new level of ‘community’ was born.” -- Larry Ackerman

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