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Meet Douglas Howe of Thoughts on the Rocks

Today we’d like to introduce you to Douglas Howe.

Douglas, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
After 25 years as a non-profit executive, and during 15 as a business consultant, some biz guys and I started Thoughts on the Rocks as a hobby with a purpose. Recently, after our four kids got through college and off the payroll, I moved from “hobby” to “vocation” and now run Thoughts on the Rocks as well as our parent non-profit, The Insignia Foundation.

There’s a myth that men can’t (or don’t) go “deep.” We believe men long to go deep, to have relationships that matter, to be involved in things that are provocative and causes that help others and each of us become better versions of ourselves. If a man gets a better handle on what personal growth looks like, the benefit is felt in marriage, parenting, the workplace, the community…and just about any place where increased capacity means increased difference making in the world around us.

We started by running deluxe boutique-style retreats, mostly golf and fishing. The challenge was to maintain and sustain the momentum from the mountain-top events and have something more local, cost-effective and regular for guys to invite their friends and colleagues too. So Thoughts on the Rocks was born as gatherings of 20-50 leaders at a restaurant, pub or patio, events that look like a chamber mixer or social gathering until everyone gets an adult beverage and a place at a table, where we focus on that night’s leadership theme, hear stories from other guys’ experiences and have a brief but catalytic speaker to close. We’ve continued to do various kinds of trips and retreats, and also offer round table groups and 1-on-1 assists for those who desire it.

Imagine something that’s faith-based but not in-your face; full of fun and laughter but not pure dirty jokes and partying; not the he-man-woman-haters club but the women-appreciators club; not diversion but inspiration. What you imagine is Thoughts on the Rocks! …and, in the various states we’ve grown to, there’s also Thoughts Over Coffee, Thoughts At Breakfast, Thoughts Around Cigars.

The key is that no one gets to decide to “fix” the other guy. We set the table for guys to share their stories for others to benefit from, and lay the groundwork for guys to follow up with each other if they sense it’d be helpful.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road has been mostly smooth, energetic, natural, full of momentum. Given the market correction, health pandemic and economic pandemic, this year has been The Perfect Storm for a tough year. We don’t pass a hat: we provide the food and beverages. Guys pay the real costs for trips but we don’t profit from them. We’ve done all we can to prove that “it’s not about the money.” But fundraising this year has been tough, especially as we’ve grown our reach and our staff.

One other interesting struggle has been “what’s the catch?” Guys are so used to there being an agenda, whether it’s fundraising or a cause or a vote or a membership or ??? Our agenda is simply to help each other become better versions of ourselves and have a great time doing it. It’s hard for many guys to trust that at first.

Thoughts on the Rocks – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
What sets us apart is, well, just about every part of it! And that’s also what our Board and I are most proud of.

We lead excellent trips, many with private chefs and outstanding guides in premier lodging next to pristine waters, but we’re not a travel agency.

We convene leaders who can make a difference with their capacities of time, talent and finances. But we don’t push it or preach it.

Guys become more self-aware, and the impact reaches to their heads and their hearts, but its not some kind of weird encounter group.

Adult beverages, cigars, really nice eats…they’re all part of it, but we’re not promoting a catering service or restaurant.

We go deep, and there’s a faith component to it, but we’re so clearly not a church or parish or synagogue.

Whether it’s fishing, or golf, or events where men share wisdom and experience, we’re not just for the excellent and experienced, and we’re not just for the new guy. We’re for all of the above.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I’ve given over 2400 public presentations on stages as well-known as The Greek Theater to Six Flags to Disney, yet believe that the longest-term impact usually comes in smaller, boutique settings. I’ve had the joy of leading both.

It’s also been a privilege to be part of quite a few great Boards where we’ve accomplished major change for people’s lives, including youth, university education, conference centers, kids with autism, inner city families…as well as corporate Boards for dynamic companies.

By far, the greatest privilege has been to lead leaders: CEOs, Owners, Congressmen, even a sitting President of the United States. To somehow get my mental arms around how this kid who grew up from a divorce and food stamps to have this kind of influence…I can’t; so I just make the most of the opportunity and remain grateful for it.

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