May 20, 2010

summit series 2010: day 3

(read first: what is summit series?)

sunday was outdoor adventure day.  the kayaking tours filled up first, and the paintballing excursion was also popular.  since running for my life, trying not to get shot, and nursing bloody welts are not my favorite activities, i opted for the extreme urban scavenger hunt.  i can't say it was the most "extreme" scavenger hunt i've ever been on (i mean, no one even got naked...), but we definitely had a hell of a lot of fun.  anthony adams designed the hunt, and he did a fabulous job linking each clue to something we'd learned about at the conference.  armed with a brand new blackberry -- which our iphone-addicted team couldn't figure out how to use -- we scurried all over the washington mall in search of evocative photo ops.  highlights:  we gave $10 to a stranger (hat tip to kiva), took our shoes off at the washington monument (hat tip to TOMS shoes), and scoured the smithsonian for a robot (hat tip to ray kurzweil).  after hoofing it all morning, we coughed up for pedicabs to get us to our final photo op with concepcion picciotto in front of the white house.  i know this pedicab photo is blurry, but i just love how the "do not enter" sign turned out.


we didn't end up winning, but i was wearing my TOMS that day, which i thought should have counted for some sort of extra credit.  after lunch at the reagan building, we returned to the hotel for an afternoon of too many good options.  summit series is organized such that there are several options in each timeslot, and saturday afternoon had some tough conflicts.

i passed on "grassroots fundraising" (with reps for donors choose, ethos water, and LIVESTRONG) in favor of the "creating great company culture" panel with mindvalley founder vishen lakhiani, second life creator philip rosedale, zappos COO & CFO alfred lin, and college humor/vimeo co-founder ricky van veen.  alfred's talk reminded me of when zappos CEO tony hsieh spoke after me at TEDIndia.  zappos places a lot of emphasis on employees' fit with the culture, requiring all of them to sign on to the company's 10 core values.  each year, every employee contributes a paragraph to the "company culture book" which is distributed throughout the organization as a sort of corporate culture bible.  my favorite idea was that zappos has everyone (from the executives on down) do some time in a call center and a distribution center to ensure they always keep the customer and quality of service in mind.  philip joined via a taped interview to talk about the love machine, a recognition system where employees can send positive feedback to each other in a public environment.  every quarter, they use this peer-reviewed feedback for their performance evaluations.  panel moderator vishen talked at length (leaving ricky little time to present) about the wild success of his company.  the core takeaways were that he has a fun workplace, everyone loves it, they make millions of dollars, and he's always on vacation.  although he had great energy, i still didn't get a good sense for what his company actually does -- i wish he'd touched on that.  one interesting idea he shared was similar to the love machine in that employees are given an amount of money to distribute anonymously to each other as part of their bonus pool.  with just 5 minutes left to speak after vishen's lofty presentation, ricky started his with, "we're a little different...our corporate culture is a little more dick-jokey."  he brought levity to the panel when he excitedly explained the latest trend in workplace pranks:  nuggeting.  on the serious side, he talked about their policy of replying to all internal emails by close of business, but my absolute favorite idea was their trophy for excellence in shitty reply alls, bestowed upon employees who abuse the company listserv.  all organizations need that.


given my work with philanthro productions, the "engaging today's youth" panel was of particular interest to me, especially since it featured two of our partners -- invisible children (represented by laren poole) and causecast (represented by president brian sirgutz).  laren and brian were joined by yosi sergant, co-creator of the obama hope campaign, and bonnaroo co-founder jonathan mayers.  laren shared their latest video and talked about the stagnation at older institutions like the UN and state department.  he insisted that we need an influx of fresh ideas to actually make change on the ground.  yosi reminded us that the number of people who show up is just a fraction of those who are engaged (on the website, facebook, twitter, etc.).  they all emphasized the need for creating a personal narrative and telling a story with a clear objective.


in the bathroom between sessions, i found this little gem, which brightened my already delightful day:



the summit series founders brought their grandmas in for tea after the sessions, but the official schedule had concurrently booked a "nap time," and i opted for the latter.  thank god i did, because saturday night was epic.

the evening kicked off with a panel called "curating life 2.0" -- a presentation by the summit series crew.  among them, co-founders elliott bisnow, brett leve, jeff rosenthal, and jeremy schwartz, director justin cohen, their "chief samurai" josh zabar, and director of reconnaissance thayer walker.  summit series is curated by this group of twentysomething men (and -- they sometimes point out -- their female PR director victoria alexander), and they do most of their planning from the road.  these guys sold their homes, put their belongings duffel bags, and became permanent jetsetters:  surfing in nicaragua, skiing in montana, handing out recovery supplies in haiti.  "our lives are super surreal...on purpose," they explained.  they shared the evolution of summit series from a 20-person gathering in aspen (funded on elliott's credit card) to mexico, miami, and finally DC.  their presentation included their core principles, among them renouncing materialism, cutting out sarcasm, implementing a "no follow up" work policy, doing yoga, bruddling, and "shedding love on people every day."  jeff captured their laid-back idealism when he asked, "why not just be awesome to everybody?"  after sharing photos of themselves doing cannonballs into their private pool, using wi-fi to work while on their boat, and dancing with children in haiti, elliott suggested that "fun, work, and philanthropy aren't usually exclusive" in their lives.  in the Q&A, jenny 8. lee described their lives and enterprise as "entourage meets TED meets the amazing race," and i think everyone agreed that the description was pretty accurate.


our final dinner featured the next big thing, billed as "20 of the most innovative, progressive, and slightly crazy attendees each getting two minutes to tell summit what they believe is the next big thing."  memorable moments included taryn miller-stevens' 30-second dance party (read: more table-top dancing), a plea from a belt-wielding anthony adams to stand up against corporal punishment in schools, and a reminder from rafe furst that most cancers are caused by lifestyle factors, not genetics.  one lucky speaker closed his speech with the observation that he'd never kissed a beautiful woman in front of hundreds of people.  within moments, one was on stage to fulfill his never-have-i-ever with a nice, long make out session.

elliott and jeff served as auctioneers for their array of lavish items, the most popular of which was a $10,000 trip to uganda with invisible children.  founders laren and jason (and bobby to some extent, although he's since left invisible children) were definitely the darlings of the conference, having inspired many with their story about child soldiers and joseph kony's war in uganda.  summit series came right on the heels of a huge win for them -- congress finally passed a bill providing a mandate to end the war.  as soon as the $10,000 trip was opened to multiple bidders, the stage was swarmed with participants eager to see africa (and probably also a little intrigued to go on a trip with invisible children supporter kristen bell).  the gender imbalance was palpable -- only one other woman went on stage, and that was only after a man at a nearby table asked, "do any women want to go? i'll sponsor you."


dinner ended with a date auction:  on the auction block were actress kristen bell, israeli model noa tishby, and the FEED project girls lauren and ellen.  no men were auctioned off.  jeff pulled me aside earlier in the afternoon to ask if i had any recommendations (for the record, my money was on adam braun, founder of one of philanthro productions' favorite charities, pencils of promise).  i think the prevailing wisdom among male candidates was, "why would i auction myself off to a room of dudes?" and jeff wound up without goods to auction.


after several bottles of (donated) hope wine, we headed out to the hard rock cafe to the night's main party.  dancing, drinks, candy, music, hugs, smiles, laughter.  it was a blast.


a summit team member arrived with bags of fake ray bans as the hard rock party started to wind down, and a flurry of whispers and texts told interested summiters to meet at a hotel in downtown DC for an impromptu, intimate performance by jazz-rock pianist eric lewis.  i know of ELEW from his 2009 performance at TED and was excited to see him up close.  around 2:30AM, twenty or thirty of us settled into the piano lounge (opened just for us) to watch eric perform for the better part of two hours.  his unique style combines pop rock music, aggressive key strokes, and non-traditional contact with the underside of the piano and the strings inside.  he played songs from the killers, evanescence, hellogoodbye, coldplay, and owl city and received at least 3 standing ovations from the attentive crowd.  (videos to come.)


i returned to the hotel to the after party suite which featured "after-hours pizza and snacks to crush the late-night munchies."  the suite also opened onto a massive patio with views of the white house, the washington monument, and capitol hill.  it was a warm night -- ideal for early morning mingling.  most of us saw the sky beginning to brighten again before we went to bed.  perfect.

read more:
recap of summit series 2010: day 1
recap of summit series 2010: day 2

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