Reflections on WDS 2012
The 2012 World Domination Summit wrapped up this past weekend.
And, unless you have been sequestered in a monastery, in silent meditation without internet access, you can barely get a pixel’s distance from the phrase World Domination Summit.
That is, of course, if you are on the web with any regularity and have a hunger for alternatives to the status quo and defining life on your own terms.
The World Domination Summit, or WDS, is a now-annual gathering of mindful revolutionaries, many of whom are internet entrepreneurs dedicated to a life of nonconformity (however one might define that term). Most people who attend WDS are cubicle escapees (see my friend, Pam Slim’s book, Escape From Cubicle Nation for more on that), or looking to escape, with a few brave souls seeking change within the confines of a traditional work setting.
As I mentioned in my pre-WDS post last week, WDS is the brainchild of Chris Guillebeau and his all-volunteer team. In its second year, WDS grew from 500 to 1,000 participants since year one, with a wait list of nearly 5,000 hopefuls who didn’t have the luck or a secret link to score a ticket.
Unlike the first year, which was far more intimate, this year’s event was pretty overwhelming for me. That’s not to say that last year’s Summit wasn’t overwhelming, but this year was really overwhelming. The older I get, the less I like crowds. Apparently, this aversion to so much stimuli made me a nonconformist in a sea of nonconformists.
But I don’t mind being the outsider’s outsider; I’m dedicated to telling the truth, my truth, about my experience at WDS in the hope that it will resonate with one, maybe two, people, that attended and perhaps didn’t feel 100% fab about the whole shebang. Now let me be clear, I mostly loved the event, as did many of the people with whom I spoke and as the reviews floating around the interwebs would attest, but I am a questioner. A seeker. A contrarian. And I am not swayed by group-think or mass feel-good-ism, or what, in this particular case, I am calling the WDS afterglow, that seems to have struck so many attendees.
The People are the Thing
WDS works because of the attendees. Yes, despite my non-love of crowds, the best part about the Summit is meeting people in the flesh that I had only previously connected with online. The speakers are amazing (big respect to Brené Brown, Pam Slim, Chris Brogan, Scott Harrison, and of course, to my friend and source of inspiration, WDS’ founder, Chris Guillebeau), but it’s less about the rock stars, than it is about the other entrepreneurs, writers, thinkers, and creatives that made the trek to Portland, OR from near and not-so-near to be surrounded by others who *get* their lifestyle.
It seems that 99.7% (totally unscientific) of the people at WDS were there because of my friend Chris Guillebeau. Chris has a soft-spoken manner, he is humble and often shy; definitely not someone who basks in the glow of the spotlight, so it’s been fun to watch him grow into his role of impresario over the last few years.
His new book, The $100 Startup, was the common thread for the event. Not only did he give a copy to everyone in attendance, but his final act of generosity, which I will get to, leaned heavily on the book’s message. Chris is truly generous; and a master at the art of promotion, too. And, while the speakers rocked the main stage, the breakout sessions were conducted with nary a hiccup (aside from the sweltering classrooms where they took place), and the formal and informal parties happened in typical party fashion, it was Chris’ closing remarks and generosity that left many teary-eyed.
The Envelope, Please
When Chris came on stage to share the final minutes with the WDSers, he took some time to tell a few stories (he is a fine storyteller) and to talk about the financial situation of the Summit. Last year, the inaugural year, WDS lost about $30k; Chris said he saw that not as a loss, but as an investment in the WDS community. He said he would not accept commercial sponsorship, however much that would ease the fiscal side of things. As luck or the money gods would have it, WDS 2012 made a bit of profit, and that combined with an anonymous gift, led Chris to give every paid attendee, upon their exit from the conference hall, an envelope that contained a $100 bill with the note: start a project, surprise someone, or do something entirely different—it’s up to you.
In case you couldn’t do the math, that’s nearly $100,000 dollars in cash, folks! Chris has, once again, outdone himself with this act of giving and inspiration. The collective silence after he announced the surprise, followed by cheering, laughter, and tears stays with me today. It was truly a remarkable experience. I imagine many people will give their $100 to Scott Harrison’s Give up Your Next Birthday Charity: Water campaign, but I’m still not sure what I will do with mine. I will, however, give up my next birthday regardless of how I chose to invest my cash and that’s fodder for a future post.
Wrapping It Up
It’s impossible, well, without this blog post running into the several thousand word count, to mention all of the highlights of WDS 2012, so I will refrain from trying to do so. Suffice it to say that I am still processing all that I learned, the amazing stories that I heard, and the fab people that I met. The general consensus for WDS 2012 is overwhelmingly positive. And while I, too, feel positive about the event, apparently I am not as blown away as many of my peers. If that leaves my voice as a lone one in the wilderness of WDS adherents who accept everything without question, so be it.
Word has it that 80% of the attendees re-upped for 2013. That would be nearly 800 people who pre-paid for 2013 (I’m one of them). This leads me to wonder how many people will be there next year. I hope Chris and his team keep it to under 1,500 or so to keep it from turning into a SXSW-style circus, but that would make it difficult for first-timers to attend. I’ll be watching to see how WDS 2013 unfolds.
I may have more reflections, perhaps even a post on the workshops that I participated in, but for now I leave you with the theme of the Summit:
How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?
Now it’s your turn: Tell me in the comments your answer to the above (or any other thoughts about this post that you may have).