There is always a unique trajectory of ideas that are initially seen as odd and later become an integral part of the culture.
Visiting with Arianna Huffington a few months ago in NYC, she remarked, "It seems that everyone in the business community is now talking about mindfulness and wisdom. What has happened, Soren?"
When the vision for the annual Wisdom 2.0 gathering that I organize came to me about six years ago, there were very few people in the technology or business community open to this conversation. All I could find was one person I followed on Twitter, Chris Sacca, who was an adviser to Twitter and former head of special projects at Google, who occasionally posted (often quite comically) about his experiments with yoga. I started with him.
I was able to meet with Chris to share my idea of a gathering that brought together technology and wisdom leaders. When asked if he would like to participate, I remember taking a deep breath of relief when he answered "Yes," and did not inquire as to whom else would be speaking. At the time, he was it.
Since that first meeting, speakers at the conference have included Bill Ford (Chairman of Ford); Mark Bertolini (CEO of Aetna), Arianna Huffington, along with the founders and CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, eBay, Zappos, Paypal and other tech companies.
It has been embraced in a way that few expected, I think in large part because people have been hungry for a deeper conversation. Many of the speakers who come to Wisdom 2.0 are people who, at other conferences, are often asked questions such as, "What will your quarterly revenue be? How are you going to address new competitors? What are your main growth opportunities?" These questions are fine in certain contexts, but there is a rapidly-expanding awareness that people are much deeper than their bottom line.
The arising conversation is not about how much money we make or how senior our job title, but is instead on what it means to live wisely and purposefully. It is about what will truly matter on our deathbeds when all is said and done. As Arianna likes to say, "What eulogy have you ever been to that said, 'It is so great that Tom became an SVP.' It is instead about the qualities we live by."
It is how we live these qualities that is gathering enormous interest in our culture. With everyone from Wired, to the New York Times, and recently Time Magazine covering this topic, clearly something is taking over. Simultaneously, Wisdom 2.0 has grown from a small gathering of 325 people five years ago to a sold out 2,000-person event this year. People are seeking meaningful in-person connections. In fact, at our main Wisdom 2.0 event, you will often find as many people in the various lounges we set up, in the hosted conversations led by participants, or the yoga or meditation rooms, as there are sitting in the main stage hall.
With about 20 percent of people (and 30 percent of those under 30) now calling themselves "spiritual but not religious," there is obviously a shift at play. While people may not be flocking in great numbers to churches, mosques and temples, they are looking for ways to experience deeper meaning and connection. It is a rising community that is not likely to go away, and who are fueled not by standing against technology or modern culture, but for a way of living that is aligned with what they most value.
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh may have summed it up best when he wrote, "The biggest (and hardest) lesson I've learned in life is that the external world is just a reflection of the world within."
It is this attention to the inner dimension, while engaging and harnessing the power of the external technologies, that is at the heart of this new movement.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Wisdom 2.0 in conjunction with the fifth annual Wisdom 2.0 Conference, held this weekend (Feb. 13-16, 2014), in San Francisco. Wisdom 2.0 is the premier event exploring the intersection of wisdom and technology. For more information about the conference, visit www.wisdom2conference.com. To see all the posts in the series, read here.