At a spring break on overdrive, where "every one of you is a Clark Kent," Barack Obama's philanthropic adviser was in search of the future. Summit co-founder Justin Cohen told the crowd that his team had "created a social sculpture." Their proverbial clay consisted of 950 hyperactive people, three out of five of them male, most based out of four main U.S. hubs: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Alongside a hyperawareness of advertising slogans, attendees embraced the music/video/light performances, free-flowing alcohol, beer-fueled panel discussions and elite networking interactions. This cruise, with its Twitter hashtag #SASea, became the world's epicenter for innovation as Summiteers focused on being true to who they were. My Indian friend Nitin tweeted the day after arriving back to shore that "apparently the one place where random guy with glow-stick spanks a VC is #SASea."
Summit at Sea, the latest in the Summit Series, was about creating a space that would breed collaboration and break down convention. The Summit team's mottos: travel, friends/family, work on something meaningful and don't be recognizable. Their rules of engagement: if you wanna play with us, you gotta be a kid; if it's not fun, it doesn't count; start the conversation being excited and passionate.
André Gide's quote, "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore," was pushed out hard before and during the Summit. Keynote speaker Sean Stephenson, the "three-foot giant," taught us to always ask ourselves, "What's funny about this?" What made the gathering badass was that everyone had submitted to the Summit concept of "make no small plans." Key architect and co-founder Jeff Rosenthal said that the team "are not conference organizers; we are artists."
Richard Branson exclaimed in the opening session, "If you haven't failed at something, you are not a true entrepreneur." The line from Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, "Don't chase the money; chase the vision," went viral.
Gary Vaynerchuk, author of "The Thank You Economy," told the gathering about a rough business meeting where he felt cornered: "You know, bro, what is the fucking ROI of your mother?" His take on business was that "everybody is trying to close too fast" and that "the Internet is a baby. This shit is just starting." He challenged attendees by stating, "People are filtering you. Looking at your tag, if you don't work for a cool enough company, they will filter. Don't fucking do that."
On day three, 50 selected individuals, including Blake from Tom's Shoes and Bob McKnight of Quicksilver, joined the University of Miami to tag sharks for research. The rest of the boaters emerged on the shores of the undisclosed island, a Summit-converted Bahamian paradise owned and operated by the cruise company that later received the nickname "Disneyland on steroids": discussion groups under umbrellas, waterslides, cocktails and beer while swimming in pristine water. "My website is old, but my work is new," Lama Tenzin, a challenger of the Buddhist monk tradition of not conducting social work, told a group of Summiteers during his umbrella talk.
The final night of greatness switched back and forth between awe and frustration for many Summiteers. Musicians and fans organically gathered in the small hall next to elevators on the seventh floor. One Summiteer played the guitar, another the whistle. A small crowd sang along. Slowly, more and more people joined in. The movement grew, and by 5:30 a.m. there were 100 or more people jamming along with no specific song in mind, just the dedication to keep the chant alive. A boat crewmember was seen with a walkie-talkie; five minutes later a woman stormed into the crowd and managed to stop the act of music-making. As she started yelling, new slogans were created: "No respect," "Have to stop this madness." The movement felt that freedoms had been violated. The woman was the boat's event coordinator.
The group moved to the music room, and a group of 50 quickly joined together, listening to the sound of the piano, chanting slowly. Spirits were back: we can create; we are in charge of our own destiny. What happened after this is all blurry.
The question on everyone's lips: What's next? Epic train ride somewhere in South America? Deep forest disconnection? Alaska?
One thing is for sure: to build on the momentum that is already boiling over for the next Summit, it needs to happen outside U.S. borders. Novelty is key.
Axwell, the epic, final DJ session that mobilized a movement of dancing light, left us with this: "Should you fail to become geniuses, should you fail to become CEOs, you can always become dancers."
Cheers to the next Summit on Mars with Richard Branson.
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