This past weekend was the World Domination Summit. Chris Guillebeau and his snappy-happy team brought approximately 2500 people from over 30 countries together in Portland for the fourth year of his wonderful, inspiring quest of an event. Admittedly when I first heard about the summit I, like many people, suspected that it was inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it was, but there was neither whip nor front-zipping mask in sight. There were, however, speakers from all over the globe, a world-record setting yoga event in Pioneer Courthouse Square, and participant-generated meet-ups covering topics like meditation, internet marketing, film and ecstatic dance. Nothing but ideas and speakers’ books were sold and there were no corporate sponsors. The summit sold out months ago.

marquee

And while the summit took place in Portland, the Middle East dangers and atrocities magnified. Recreational marijuana bonanza went wild for legality in Washington. Over 50,000 immigrant children were still in limbo. Americans cared about footy only slightly less than the rest of the world. Boko Haram was on the move in Nigeria. Even the news of LeBron James signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers mattered for many.

It was, therefore, relevant and irrelevant that everyone at the summit had gathered to attempt to answer one elegant, essential question:

How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?

Throughout the weekend, the amazing speakers brought unique experiences and perspectives to answering that question. This is not a recap of the messages served, but rather smattering of questions harvested.

opening

It’s hard to be curious. It’s hard not to let fear interfere with following your curiosity. It’s scary when curiosity challenges your faith and all that you know. I know this because I have the disease of curiosity. What often prevents its spread is fear of finding things that prove that your world view–the tribe you’ve chosen or has been chosen for you–is wrong. However, I believe that without curiosity, a remarkable life is impossible.

I was curious: With all the world’s astonishments, what makes the world conventional? Is the label of conventionality fair or accurate? What constitutes a remarkable life? Will we know our own remarkability when we see it? Do we witness it more easily in others? What if it’s subtle?

The World Domination Summit (WDS) showcased three important values:

1. Community

Building a community is like building a tribe. The WDS community is amazing.

Saki Mafundikwa talked about his design community/school in his hometown of Zimbabwe. There he works with African writing systems that inform his beautiful design sensibility. Zimbabwe has over a dozen official languages and, as Saki divided the audience for a mini language lesson, it became apparent how language unites…and divides. Around me people commented on how “our side of the auditorium had the better words” for the various animals of our lesson. The first, tiny manifestation of the power of separatism was witnessed in this mini language lesson.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 1.16.47 AM

The significance of this danger to the African continent may have been lost in the beauty of Saki’s designs, but I suggest that it shouldn’t be. Tribes are often easily established, connecting-dividing, dangerous organisms.

I was curious: Do the good aspects of tribalism and community outweigh the bad? What role does language play in creating tribes? Are we so inherently wired to create communities that we fail to see when toxicity may creep in?

Gary Hirsch was a delightful, generous speaker on and off the stage. He created 2500 mini works of art for each of the participants. His speech was about overcoming fear and his social proof strategies for creating community were smart. I wondered about the importance of the role of frivolity and fun in all we pursue.

joybot

John Jantsch gave a speech about companies that do good and he sang inspiringly. He gave the audience guitar picks that said, “Make good choices.” I’m sending one to my musician son. He said that members of the WDS community are not skeptics. There was significant applause. I couldn’t help but wonder if skepticism at odds with living a remarkable life? Could it be that the opposite is true?

2. Adventure

John Francis shared his disgust over an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in the 1970s that lead to his life as an environmentalist. Back then he took a vow of silence, gave up motorized transportation and walked across America for nearly 20 years. His life was an adventure. He painted, wrote, inhaled, and earned degrees…all without saying a word.

I was curious: How is choosing not to speak different from an inability to speak? Does that choice distinction effect how people perceive one’s non-verbal communication? Did he ever slip up and say something when alone and startled? What about when he stubbed his toe…hard? How did he accomplish so much without saying a word? Did the choice of not speaking create a curiosity gap that inspired his ‘listeners’ to harvest their own lessons? Are physical adventures of the body less conventional than adventures of the mind?

AJ Jacobs is my cousin and I’m glad because he’s hysterical. He’s lived a life of following a curiosity adventure. For one year he attempted to follow every law in the bible. Although he claimed to have stoned an adulterer, it really sounded more like a light pebbling. He’s done a lot of other cool projects that have required embodiment and costumery and he’s written about them to best selling status.

I am also hopeful that Dee Williams is my cousin. Her speech rocked my world. She clearly loves woodland creatures way more than creature comforts. I can’t stop thinking about how living in her Big Tiny, 84 square foot house allows her to hear and see things in nature in multiples. I hear rain. She hears several different types of rain. She built her current home herself and now teaches others to do it. She is planning on scaling down to 54 square feet when she…retires?

I was curious: When is Al Jacobs not curious? What role did skepticism play in his decision to live biblically for a year? What adventures has he considered and rejected? What biblical laws did he try to follow and could not? Specifically how did these adventures change him? What is he conjuring for after his global family reunion project? If I go to Al’s world’s largest family reunion, will Dee Williams be there? I’d love to see her host that party.

3. Service

Service is a tough one. Would asking,  “Service for whom?”  redirect adventure? Does that question sound distastefully skeptical or wildly helpful?

Shannon Galpin spoke powerfully about the need to give a voice to women. She wisely convinced many in the audience that women’s suffering is not a women’s issue. I was surprised by how many men seemed to be surprised by this, but I was encouraged that they agreed. She revealed uncomfortable statistics that reflect a disgusting reality for women. She spoke of the desensitization we feel when the force of atrocity is too much for us to handle.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 8.54.16 AM

I was curious: Is desensitization of these issues more a result of familiarity or an inability to face the severity? With violence against women everywhere, why did she go to Afghanistan? Where do her statistics come from…especially on unreported cases of assault against women? Is giving voice to women the first step? If giving a voice  is the first step toward eliminating the violence against women, what are the next steps?

Scott Berkun made it clear that not all messages have to be positive to be effective. Illuminating the dangers of cognitive biases may have been the most pragmatic (and perhaps useful) message.

I was curious: Did people want to hear the truth about how we think? Could understanding our biases be the final shove into action? Do people come to the World Domination Summit to dominate? How is this fun, provocative, dominating name consistent with the quest? Can it be understood that provocative questions can come from curiosity and not criticism? Is it more important for me to live an astonishing life than a remarkable one? Will I come again next year?

I’m beyond curious to know what questions you can think of.