“I don’t care how big your mansion is, you can only sit in one seat at a time. It’s about learning to be comfortable in that seat.” – Russell Simmons @UncleRush
Last weekend, I was provided the opportunity to attend the invite only, highly inspirational and informative Summit Series 2011. I had been invited to attend back in 2009 but the timing was not right. In 2008, (for those that need the reminder) the economy was in the tank, business was hurting and in hindsight…I was too. With the weight of layoffs and doom and gloom around me, I felt alone and unsure of my own abilities to lead a highly creative, innovative, tech savvy brand engagement team. Knowing what I know now, after attending Summit Series D.C. 2010 and now Summit Series at Sea 2011, NOT attending in 2009 was potentially one of the biggest mistakes I could have made.
For those of you who have not yet heard of Summit Series, it is like Allen & Co meets TED meets United Nation and new to the mix this year….meets the biggest baddest Internet technology launch party (pre-bubble of course). The event was held at sea upon a very large ship complete with a private island visit and sunset yoga with Russel Simmons.
For context, there are five “unwritten” rules for this event of which, the top minds in entrepreneurship, philanthropy, innovation, entertainment, creativity, charity and government must abide:
Go on a Learning Safari
Everyone has something to teach. Everyone has something to learn. Take an intellectual, spiritual and creative journey.
Summit Series isn’t about networking; it’s about building lifelong friends. The people around you are amazing. Get to know them.
The Unexpected moments are often the most meaningful. Embrace them.
Summit Series is about character, not resumes. Show love to the start-ups, and don’t fanboy the big timers.
If it’s not fun, it doesn’t count.
As you can see, this is not your normal conference and there was nothing normal about the passionate speakers who spoke from the heart about their passion, their calling, their brand and how they are changing the world. As I realized, changing the world is not as lofty as saving the world. Some of the 1000 hand-selected attendees will be changing the world with their product (facebook, secondlife, zappos, crowdrise and quicksilver) and some will be changing the world by getting others to think about their role and purpose (Smart Water, Tom’s Shoes, XPrize & Russell Simmons). Because we are trapped at sea, we had the unique opportunity to meet with those who were presenting before and after their panel. For me, the highlight was a 1:30 am brief chat with Russell Simmons while sitting on the edge of the raised dance floor. His label, Def Jam, played a major role as the soundtrack to my youth (sprinkled with some Garth Brooks). We talked about his new financial services business, my bar-mitzvah lip sync to RUN DMC, the importance of giving back and teaching your kids to do the same and my go-to song for a good mood, Peter Piper. Random as all those topics sound, it was real and meant the world to me.
Beyond meeting interesting, accomplished people….I was inspired. I was Inspired by entrepreneurs who have “done it” 5x over and those who were giving it their all and one lucky introduction away from changing their lives forever. While having a drink on the back of the boat I met a young man who was starting up an Amazon Tea company. We talked of where his business was at today, what his challenges were and what some of the best ways to increase awareness of not only his product but tea in general. No more than 15 minutes later I was on the top of the boat listening to what is quite possibly the best, well rounded band of our generation, The Roots. I met one of the members of the band, @FrankKnuckles in line for the buffet and found him to be as much positive energy as musical talent. He was truly appreciative of all he has been provided and humbled by all he has achieved musically. They deserve all the recognition they are getting, truly a fantastic band.
Most important for me to share in this short (ish) blog is my chatting with and listening to the impactful, Sean Stephenson (http://timetostand.com/). I didn’t know who Sean was or that he was speaking as I approached him sitting in the very back of the theater. Sean had an approachable confidence about him that made it easy to strike up a brief conversation about the cruise and those that he was excited to hear speak. I had no idea that just a few hours later it was he that would “change the world” for everyone on the ship. From the moment Sean started speaking I knew I was witnessing something special. I regret that I was unable to reach for my phone fast enough to capture the entire speech but I did manage to capture a video of the final 20 minutes or so. I posted it on youtube http://youtu.be/GlyciEt3q3s and pledge to stay connected to Sean (hope you are reading this Sean) to embrace his message of self-confidence and humor. As he says, we must remember to ask ourselves… “What is so funny about this”.
One of the most serendipitous talks for me personally was delivered by Chip Conley http://www.chipconley.com/musings/ . Chip talked about finding happiness in your life but recognizing the equations it takes to get there. Despite being heavily into software and technology I am not a math guy. I am more likely to gravitate to innovation and apply technology to sociological behaviors than spending time determining ratios and formulas for success. HOWEVER, Chip helped to codify some thinking that I have been having lately around emotion and technologies inability to manage, predict and deliver innovation around it. He calls it “Emotional Equations” and because of my business, I find this a fascinating subject, especially in the area of content and more specifically video. Chip’s talk about the development of equations as a means of helping you to understand your own emotions, relationships and your business’ most important asset, people and how they work with each other was extremely insightful. It has re-affirmed an area of innovation that I believe is under-valued around “emotion measurement” as it relates to media and user-behavior. I hope to connect with Chip in the coming months to talk more about this topic. You can hear his talk at TED here http://www.ted.com/talks/chip_conley_measuring_what_makes_life_worthwhile.html
As I sat on the plane, ready to depart Miami and return to Southern California, conversations, quotes and topics raced thru my head. I tried to capture some of the thought starters to ensure I didn’t forget a thing that I gained from the weekend. Here are the highlights:
- Emotion matters. Understand it and embrace Manage emotion and convert from a liability to an asset. It will transform you from living to fulfilling.
- There are two types of people in business “Salts and Suits”. (quote from Quicksilver CEO) Salts create and suits manage. Asking a Salt to manage the way a suit naturally does is not fair and not required.
- Confidence is not arrogance. Arrogance is being unaware of your over-confidence.
- Find what matters to you and your business and develop a giving program. If you pick the right charity it can be a catalyst for energy, culture and innovation.
- The Roots Rock!
- I want to be Russell Simmons when I grow up
- We will be in space and deep in the ocean in 10 years, exploring areas we have not yet seen. Private enterprise will be driving this charge and Xprize will be a household name.
- China has a ton of people and a huge demand for cars. So much so that if all of them are oil based, we will run out of oil very quickly. Fortunately, there are some smart, smart people in Israel. Those smart people will have an electric auto solution for the world that is sustainable very soon and the answer lies in the question “How do you run a country with no oil”.
Others have done a fantastic job documenting their perspective on the event. Other than this post, my notes look like this