The Sunnylands Solution


In February, we headed to Palm Springs for a winter respite. The weather threw us a curve ball, with temperatures in the 40’s, prevailing clouds, and rain. Relegated to indoor entertainment, we found a silver lining in Sunnylands After an afternoon of touring the Annenberg property and learning about the founders, and their mission, it is clear to me that we all need our own version of Sunnylands. 

An Eden-esque Estate for Enigma Resolution

Built in 1966 by Walter and Lenore Annenberg in Palm Springs as a winter escape from their home in Pennsylvania, this beautiful estate’s owners welcomed many world leaders, scholars, entertainers, and friends and family. On many occasions, guests engaged in dialogue that promoted efforts to enhance international understanding and civility. By the late 80’s, the Annenbergs knew they were on to something and wanted to ensure Sunnylands would live on to bring people together to discuss and solve difficult, sometimes almost insurmountable, issues in a place of tranquility. They had seen how divestiture from the daily pressures and constraints that stunt meaningful work led to greater understanding and détente among participants.

To ensure this problem-solving space would continue, the Annenbergs established a foundation to ensure Sunnylands’ survival beyond their lifetimes. Today this property serves as a private, small-platform retreat center for diplomats, world leaders, and others working to solve complex issues facing our nation and world community. They gather, break bread (Sunnyland language: gastro-diplomacy), talk, disperse for “think time”, gather, play hard, talk, etc. History has been created at Sunnylands, where hospitality reigns and diplomacy and civility are expected. 

While most of us aren’t world leaders, scholars, entertainers and the like, as humans, we crave what Sunnylands offers: gathering places to engage in meaningful dialogue, break bread, personal reflection, play hard, and more—all with diplomacy, respect, and civility. 

So why is this type of space so rare in our business lives? I think the short answer is the pressure of time. Too often leaders at all levels are working in the thick of day-to-day operations, unable to allot time for engaging with each other or taking time to seek greater clarity about  important issues that could create seismic shifts in their companies, communities, and the world. 

Peter Drucker taught that efficiency is concerned with doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. Too often we are working toward greater efficiency vs. effectiveness. 

To do the right things, you need to understand what they are. Identifying them takes big-picture thinking, patience, and perspective. The issues may be complex by nature and if not facilitated well, could create discord vs. dialogue.

Create YOUR Sunnylands

Contribute to creating a better company, community, and world by creating your version of Sunnylands with these five tips:

  • Setting the course – There is significant value in taking time away from the office to accomplish long-term objectives and break down significant issues.  Strive for a judgment-free environment, where civility and respect are valued. Develop “retreat time” objectives that are shared by all to ensure everyone rows in the same direction. 
  • Follow through and follow up – Likely there will be actions as people disperse. To ensure that “in between time” is purposeful, assign responsibilities and implement  closed-loop communication about progress.
  • Location – Setting and surroundings are important. While most won’t have the luxury of stepping far away for days at a time, selecting a location that brings energy, spaces to gather, to contemplate individually, to socialize together and enjoy alone. The main point is to separate from your normal work environment to encourage creative thinking. 
  • Honoring the retreat time – Research from the University of CA, Irvine found it can take upwards of 20 minutes to regain momentum after interruptions. Therefore, disconnecting from intrusive digital devices and engaging with those who are physically with you is critical. Calm minds invite intuition and innovation, enabling participants to see things through a more creative lens that allow new ideas to emerge. 
  • Balance – Time is a scarce commodity. Even in a retreat setting, it is important to create blocks of time to work together deeply, with sessions of 90 minutes up to four hours. Be sure to include blocks of time for personal introspection and blocks for, socializing and playing together.

Most people benefit from taking conversations “out” of their heads and saying it out loud. Some will need group environments and others personal quiet space to unravel and make sense of complex thoughts.

Legacy of leaders

Having worked its magic for global heads of state and ambassadors, your own Sunnylands will provide opportunities to recalibrate and adjust goals and priorities, with conditions that help leaders focus in the right direction. Whether outcomes are subtle or profound, you’ll learn from each other and yourself. All will adapt, grow, and thrive.

If you’re ready to create your Sunnylands to solve your toughest issues, don’t plan in a vacuum. Embrace a cross-functional team in the process to create balance. If you’re interested in support, we can help. Let’s start a conversation. Call 800-742-6800 or email today.