WDS stage

Dominating the world … again

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And so WDS is over for another year.

13 months ago I wrote about the first World Domination Summit in Portland.  It was … well, it’s hard to describe really.  Inspiring and motivating, sure, but it was more than that.  It was a profound experience, connecting me with 500 other people who are living, as the tagline goes, ‘a remarkable life in a conventional world’.

Meeting those people, having that experience, feeling that shared power was the final nail in the coffin of my corporate career.  It has been eight months so far, and I can’t even imagine going back.

For all of those reasons, I had been looking forward to the event this year with a mixture of excitement and nervousness.  If it was anywhere near as good as last year, I thought, it would once again be incredible.  With nearly twice the people attending though, could it retain the intimacy that made it so special?  With all of the publicity around it, would the mix of people still be so wonderful, or would the self-promotion and ego so lacking the first time start to make an appearance?

The first thing I noticed at the opening party on Friday night was that there were a lot of people there.  Well actually no, that’s not true.  The first thing I noticed was two people wrestling in sumo suits while ping pong balls flew past from the nearby tables.  Shortly after that, a marching band led a conga line of attendees into the venue.  Well, I guess that’s not a bad way to kick things off…


I picked familiar faces out of the crowd.  Strangers came up and introduced themselves, the stories at once unique and yet strangely familiar.  People were doing some amazing, beautiful, life-affirming things.  I smiled as the vibe from last year came creeping back.

This was my tribe, and I was glad to be among them.

If I had thought the calibre of the speakers last year was high, this year the bar was raised through the roof.  More than one of them had spoken at TED, their videos garnering millions of views.  Lists of their accomplishments stretch for miles, and the messages from the weekend were simple, poignant and highly powerful.

Brene Brown (who is, by the way, amazing) taught us about the power of being uncool, vulnerable and creative.  Of contributing over criticising.  Of belonging rather than fitting in.

One of many ‘aha’ moments was a discussion about how unused creativity is not benign – it festers and turns into grief and anger.  She argued that schools need to stop grading creativity, and I wholeheartedly agree.  We need more creative people in this world, not less.

Oh, and then she convinced 1000 people to sing “Don’t Stop Believing” at the top of their lungs.  The Glee version, of course, because it’s especially uncool.

Scott Harrison had us alternately in stiches and tears as he recounted his transformation from addicted nightclub promoter to founder of Charity:Water, one of the biggest water charities in the world.  Seriously, this guy blew my mind.  If you haven’t heard of the organisation, it’s time that you did.

Scott Harrison

And so it carried on all weekend.  My friends Dan and Audrey from Uncornered Market shared their travel, love and life stories in a light-hearted yet deeply touching talk on a theme I’ve often talked about myself: it’s all about the people.

Chris Brogan used a collection of comic cards to illustrate a wide-ranging talk on confidence and motivations.  JD Roth spoke of his transformative journey through building – and selling – one of the most popular personal finance sites on the web, losing 50 pounds and most frightening of all, starting to date again.  He said one deceptively simple thing that stuck with me more than any other sentence from the entire weekend.

“The things you DO are your priorities, not the things you say you WANT to do.”

We tell others and ourselves what our priorities are all the time.  To exercise more, to drink less, to travel to the ends of the earth.  Why, then, do we stay on the sofa, wake up with a hangover and not even renew our passport when it expires?

Because our real priorities are the things we do, not the things we say we want to do.  It’s that simple.

The one hour I spent in Corbett Barr‘s Idea Evaluation workshop made the weekend worthwhile by itself.  A flood of new ideas for Too Many Adapters flowed into my notebook, and I guarantee you’ll be seeing some of them appear over the next few months.

Friends old and new stood on stage at the end of the final day, sharing their stories of projects started and lives changed since WDS last year.  From ‘boob cancer’ to vegetable gardens, oil spills to walking across America, people were profoundly moved.

Despite the amazingness of the weekend, though, I still wasn’t certain that I’d buy my earlybird ticket to return next year.  It’s expensive to be here – flights, accommodation and the few hundred bucks for the ticket itself.  Did I really need to come back for a third time?  Did I not have enough inspiration already?

Chris Guillebeau

And then, as I sat in a school dress in front of 1000 people (more on that later…), Chris Guillebeau delivered a final ‘one more thing’ worthy of the late Steve Jobs.

The conference had made a small profit, he said, and when combined with a generous donation from an anonymous source the total came to almost exactly $100 per person.  That amount just happens to coincide with the title of Chris’s new book, The $100 Startup, where he interviews dozens of successful microbusiness owners and provides a blueprint for doing it yourself.

That book was in our gift bags at the start of the show, and now he provided the rest of the tools we needed.  After a standing ovation that lasted several minutes we filed out of the hall, each person being handed a small envelope as they left.

Within the envelope was a crisp $100 bill, and a card instructing us to use it to make a difference in the world.

I booked my ticket the following day.  After a show of faith like that, how could I not come back?

Guess I’ll be seeing you next year, Portland.

[Images via Armosa Studios]

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  1. Terrific WDS review article. This pretty much sums it up for me also. Inspirational main stage speakers. Several kick ass seminar sessions in the afternoon with useful information that could be applied specifically. And a sweet finale to this year’s summit making it almost impossible to refuse the early bird offer of returning in 2013 – even with long haul flights.

  2. Dave, I have wanted to go for the last two years. This next year, will you save me a seat? I think our trip home will overlap next year and it sounds totally awesome!

  3. Well done, Dave. I got teary just rereading it all from the weekend. It was every bit as incredible as you write. So, so great. Hope to meet you next year. I’ve signed up too!

  4. So much in line with my thinking. It was my first WDS and it was also the first conference I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to and even planned a lot!) where I felt at home. I’ve signed up already for next year and am bringing my husband, who’s a collaborative artist who would easily grok the WDS spirit and goals. The cost of attending is intimidating so I’ve decided to use my $100 WDS investment to inspire a cadre of investors who believe in his community-based art concept and process. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

  5. Wow. Being around the Internet marketing circles so often, and seeing so many people out to make a quick buck off new bloggers, those closing paragraphs have really cheered me up.

    Maybe not every famous eBook pan-handler is as bad as I have grown to believe?

    Great to see people are still trying to legitimately change the world, and not always turn a profit.

    Looking forward to see the fruits of your labours and lessoned learned from these conferences Dave.

  6. Great summary of the feeling of being at WDS. I also had an ‘aha’ moment with Brene’s comment about unused creativity – loved her talk on so many levels. Thanks for the kind words about our presentation – it was terrifying at first to be up there, but we had a lot of fun as well. Travel and life – it’s all about the people.

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  8. The power of being surrounded by like-minded folks has never been lost on me. When I was younger, it was focused more on having a good time or just being comfortable enough in a group setting to make conversation. The older version of me – the current version – thrives on finding like-minded souls as a way to have a more deeply fulfilling life and to achieve excellence. Thanks for reporting on this event!

  9. Nice summary of the weekend Dave, and good to briefly meet you at the closing party! Looking forward to taking a lot of action and traveling a lot this year, and will look for you again in Portland next year. Keep up the fun!

  10. Great recap, Dave.

    The “one more thing” Steve Jobs analogy is excellent! Jobs’s name came up time and time again at WDS, so it’s great to put the two together like that.

    And yes, the $100 investment totally sold me on coming back next year as well.

    See you in Portland in less than a year!

  11. I won’t be original here… I was also doubting whether I will come back next year, but after that punch line, I bought the ticket Sunday night. See you back there, or, hopefully, somewhere on the road before then.

  12. This is about the fifth review of WDS I’ve read and it sounds like an amazing experience all around. The only thing I can’t seem to find is how much it actually costs or where you got those elusive tickets from?

    1. I haven’t seen the prices for next year yet, but suspect that it’ll be similar to this year at around the $500 mark. Previous attendees who sign up for the following year (like I have for the last two years) get a discounted rate and a guaranteed ticket, otherwise the tix are released in waves from around January or so to everyone else.

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