THE MORE DIGITAL WE GET, THE MORE RITUAL WE NEED
This is why festivals have made such a comeback in the 21st century. Our leisure IRL (In Real Life) experiences balance our growing fixation with URLs (partly why I started Fest300). In our business lives, conventions and conferences are evolving to offer something that appeals to more than the working brain. Your pulse can’t be captured on Skype or a Google Hangout. But the physiological effects of rituals can be measured, as reported in this NY Times article. There’s an emerging trend toward the unconventional convention that looks and feels more like a cool festival than a big meeting. Salesforce’s Dreamforce has become a role model for this sort of FOMO-producing (“fear of missing out”) event.
Fire walking ritual in Spain (NY Times photo: Dimitris Xyglatas)
In May, over the course of just a few days, I experienced two first-rate examples of this new form of convention. I spoke in Tulum at a Summit Series event that’s a Millennial-focused, social version of TED. There’s a common intention of the attendees founded on curiosity, networking, and a healthy amount of partying. Summit throws these fests in epic locations that appeal to attendees’ hearts and souls as much as their heads. An engaged community develops around the Summit events that stays alive online. Soon after Tulum I traveled to Montreal to speak at the C2 conference that highlights the crossroads of creativity and commerce. Imagine a learning event, envisioned in the context of a party, and thrown by an inventive advertising agency. Great convention meeting planners are becoming expert social alchemists.
The idea of a conference as a pilgrimage can be traced back to South by Southwest and TED. To understand the ingredients for TED’s global success, I think you’ll enjoy this Fast Company article on the founder of TED. Philosopher and martial artist Deng Ming-Dao once wrote, “The key to pilgrimage is to embark on the trip with a heightened intention. We are not just tourists. We’re going to honor someone or something. By honoring what is sacred to us, we make it more real in our lives. Inevitably, we return from pilgrimage, and this is an essential part of the meaning as well. We’re supposed to return to our normal lives, except that we return transformed, carrying the experience with us forever, having touched the reality of what we love.” This quote perfectly describes the magic of Burning Man, which has become a Silicon Valley pilgrimage that whets the appetite of imagination in the tech community.
Burning Man Temple 2012
I’ve had the good fortune of conceiving and producing Airbnb’s annual festival of hosting, the Airbnb Open, which was in Paris last November. This just released trailer gives you a flavor of what we’re cooking up for this fall in downtown LA. The Airbnb Open is a physical manifestation of our “Belong Anywhere” mantra. It is the one moment annually where our product becomes tangible in a large-scale and public format and where the company hosts our community.
In my book Emotional Equations, I foreshadowed my desire to create the Airbnb Open when I wrote about “curious tribes.” “Internet communities alone aren’t enough. We are naturally social beings who need the occasional hall pass to break us out of our cybercell at home or work so we can connect with our flock. And if there’s one experience that can transcendentally unite a flock, it’s the experience of wonder and awe in a group setting. I regularly experience curious joy when among three unique tribes: the annual TED conference, the Sundance Film Festival, and Burning Man. Though these three annual events are quite different, they are all immersive. They give me a ‘contact high’ by being able to share my sense of wonder or awe at a mind-blowing lecture, an emotionally intense film, or an ethereal sculpture in the middle of the desert.” If you have an Airbnb account as a guest or host, you can join us for a little wonder and awe in LA for the Airbnb Open November 17-19.
My favorite role models aren’t conferences. They’re people. And sometimes you meet these inspired humans at conferences. In Montreal at C2, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus and iconic entrepreneur Martha Stewart walked into the Green Room, almost at the same time (see below who I rushed for). I’m a big fan of Muhammad because he took a disruptive approach, the creation of microfinance, to trying to solve one of the world’s most vexing problems: poverty.
With Muhammad Yunas
If I could pick my perfect dinner party of four, I’d choose Muhammad as well as Warren Buffett (who has his own annual conference that feels like a festival: “the Woodstock of capitalism”) and acclaimed author Brené Brown. Maybe Martha Stewart could cater our dinner (I got her card while I was in Montreal).
With Brené Brown
Recently, I was giving a speech at the annual Horizons Foundation luncheon and I shared my somewhat analytical approach to determining how I give. William James wrote, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” That’s the definition of legacy. There are so many ways we can offer a legacy: our children, our relationships, our work, our writing, our mentorship. For me, philanthropy is emerging as a place where I can offer a legacy.
One thing I learned in writing PEAK was that you can have meaning “at” work and “in” work based upon the noble purpose of an organization and how you feel you’re impacting that purpose. This can be applied to our giving as well. Whenever I’m considering a non-profit gift, I rate the non-profit on a 1-5 basis on two axis: 1) how inspired I am by the purpose of the organization; 2) how impactful I feel I can be based upon either my time, money, or influence.
There are non-profits that do great things in the world with a mission that touches me deeply. So I might rate them a 4 or 5 for inspiration. But, if I feel my impact would be low (often because it’s such a large non-profit), I may rate that axis as a 1 or 2. In my way of looking at things, the highest rating a non-profit can have is 25 (5 x 5). I will consider a long-term gift program for any non-profit receiving a rating of 10 or higher. I’ll look at ways to both give my money and time (often on a Board) if the rating is 15 or higher. And, for non-profits with a score of 20 or 25, I make a substantial commitment.
In June, two of those Board member commitments came to fruition. For the past five years, I’ve been actively involved in raising money so that Burning Man could buy the nearby Fly Ranch in northern Nevada to create a long-term, year-round natural, artistic habitat dedicated to the 10 Principles of Burning Man. This transaction for its transformational, utopian mission closed escrow in June. Additionally, I’ve spent the past few years helping to concept and raise money for a new lodge at the Esalen Institute, south of Big Sur. The lodge just opened with the Conley Bookstore as a core spot where people on personal or social transformational retreats can connect amongst the words of great Esalen teachers from Abraham Maslow to Joseph Campbell.
Conley Bookstore at Esalen
My point of view of the legacy of philanthropy can best be summed up in Lao Tzu’s wisdom, “To know when you have enough is to be rich beyond measure.” I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently reading the Stoics from 2,000 years ago whose point of view is quite aligned with Lao Tzu’s as well as the the Zen Buddhists. If you want to learn more about how Marcus Aurelius’ or Seneca’s philosophy is still relevant in modern times, I’d recommend a book I just finished by William Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.
Here’s to a joyful summer of laughs and legacy…