23 April 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Summit at Sea: Why the boat rocked

This month, I was lucky enough to join Summit at Sea, the fourth event put on by the Summit Series team who bring together business visionaries, artists, social entrepreneurs, and environmentalists with the goal of fostering collaboration and innovation through the revelry they create at their exclusive gatherings. The event was unlike any other I have attended, and I thought I would write down some of the lessons I learned about how they created such a unique environment.

#1) Well Vetted Participants – Summit Series attendees were each personally invited by a member of the now 20 person planning team. While the first event started with 17 people, this event with more than 1000 was the result of those 17 recommending friends, and then those people recommending others. Everyone was somehow connected through a web of mutual respect and therefor the participants each felt honored and welcomed into the group…

#2) Innovators Across Sectors – …and while other conferences might focus on one or two business sectors, this group of innovators across all fields meant that there was cross-sector idolization going on. It was not uncommon to see someone who had just been thronged after their presentation waiting patiently in line to meet another speaker. At conferences with one sector of participants, say the Knitters Association, there would be a natural hierarchy whereby all the newbie knitters would be idealizing the polished and practiced old-timers.  At Summit Series, it didn’t seem like there was a constant divide between a celebrity crowd and their fans but rather a group of people with mutual adoration for each others work. I smiled watching Tony Hsieh of Zappos, who had been a star presenter the previous day, wait among a crowd which formed around Chip Conley (author of PEAK and founder of Joie de Vivre) after his presentation about Emotional Equations (the topic of Chip’s next book). There was a lot of mutual respect and old friendships shining through (like when Tim Ferris, author of the 4 hour work week/4 hour body, gave a shout out to Charles Best of Donors Choose during his talk as the two had been friends in school). The Roots entertained us each night, but during the day the artists who were starts in the evening were walking around the ship just like everyone else…

#3) A Captive Audience – …and that was the key to this unique experience! Everyone, including presenters and participants, was “stuck” on the boat, just like everyone else. Apart of Richard Branson and Chris Sacca who presented at the opening session and jumped ship before we set out to sea, all of the presenters and participants were there for the duration. No leaving early, no coming late, no other meetings to sneak off to, no presenting and then heading out the back door, and no breaking up into different restaurants for dinner based on exclusivity. Everyone was there together, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dancing, and that meant that the best conversations and chances to learn from each other could continue on all day and all night….

#4) No Internet or Phones – ….. and no one would be pulled away by a phone call!  At sea, our phones didn’t work and internet was so cost prohibitive on the boat that most people did not use it much or at all. If internet had been free or if our phones had continued to work, I bet most people would have taken a minimum of 1-3 additional hours each day to do work. Removing those electronic networking distractions allowed for a full immersion into the Summit experience, giving us all more time in our day to meet each other and engage in the experience through a real human social network…

#5) All Participants ALL Aboard – …as we had been told to do from the beginning by Summit Series founder, Elliot Bisnow. He reminded us to embrace the chance encounters and to fully engage each person we met in conversation as they all had a story to tell and value to share. I found the inclusive environment where everyone was welcomed into conversations so refreshing and motivating.

The last evening, during an all night jam session where a group, chaired by Gary Vaynerchuck, engaged in discussions and debates around technology, the future, social entrepreneurship, and successful charity models, I looked around and realized that each member of the group was being challenged and inspired to engage in topics they had rarely had a chance to passionately discuss before… and each of us was better for it.

The unique combination of these five characteristics (plus a whole LOT of work by the SS Team) made Summit Series an experience of overwhelming interconnectedness, passion, energy, and collaboration. Kudos to the Summit Series team for breaking down the traditional barriers to connecting at a conference event and for creating an unforgettable experience. Let’s hope those of us who participated continue to take these new found connections, ideas, and opportunities out into the world to continue to create collaborative experiences which inspire even more people to grow. And let’s hope that the Summit Series team finds a way to match this inclusive, off-the-network conference next time…. group flotilla down the Grand Canyon, anyone?