This week I was the Conference Chairman for the fall ERE Expo conference, and I it was great to connect with so many people I hadn’t seen in awhile. I also met some truly incredible people.
It also turned out to be a period of discovery and clarity for me, as being back at an industry conference like this (I haven’t been to one since I joined Google, which was nearly 2 years ago) really brings a lot of perspective. We often get lost in the tracks of our lives and it’s so beneficial to step off the track that you are on every day and step onto another track for a change, and to really pay attention. Like when you ride a fast motorcycle, if you do that, you are really paying attention.
So in no particular order, here is what I discovered at ERE this year as I stopped to really pay attention:
Some of us experience the world radically differently than the rest.
Case in point: I met this intriguing woman named Melissa Sconyers that frankly, made me feel like I have been completely left behind.
We had an in depth discussion about Digital Natives (the Gen Yers who have grown up being digitally connected by cellular phones, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media) and the Digital Immigrants (I guess that’s me… those who are moving into understanding this other, more connected world that the younger generation takes as de facto.) It was really interesting to hear her perspective and realize that although she’s “young” (I think in her early twenties) she has lived a rich life that in large part is due to her passion for social and digital media. She is one of those ‘special people’ that are going to do amazing things in her life (she was one of the ‘Smart Kids’ featured on Oprah a few years ago), but what struck me most is that she really pays attention – to what’s going on in the world, to what makes her happy, to what her values are… Melissa chronicles the discussion on her blog.
In part because I met Melissa, I realize that I absolutely have to start blogging again on a regular basis. As someone who sees clearly that a lot of my success has come from the relationships I have in my life and career, not having a digital presence that is up to date is a huge liability and is a faulty career and life strategy. In fact, when I met Melissa, one of the first things she said was, “I read your blog. It’s really good, but all the stuff is too old…” Literally I think that was her first sentence when I sat down with her. I was embarrassed.
And then we had this great discussion about how social media creates precursory bonds that allow in-person interactions to be that much closer and stronger because people have connected in advance over the web. So social media serves as an accelerant for regular, in-person relationships which creates more meaning in our lives. And I knew this, but I had stopped paying attention. This is something that is important to understand in today’s world.
I bet Melissa will always be paying attention.
I need to go to Dubai.
Just last week I finished this book by Ben Mizrich (I like his writing because he seems to find the smart true stories in the world) called Rigged: The True Story of an Ivy League Kid Who Changed the World of Oil, from Wall Street to Dubai. He's the same guy that chronicled the real life adventures of the MIT students who starting beating Vegas at the blackjack tables by being smarter at playing the game (they never cheated). They made a terrible movie out of the story called "21" that doesn't even begin to do the story justice.
And then I’m having a Cuban dinner (how are plantains different than a banana?) with Dr. John Sulivan, Master Burnett, and John’s wife Addie. John believes that you don’t really experience the world when you travel unless you eat the local food. Dr. Sullivan has paid attention to this.
And we get talking about Dubai and the experiences they have had there recently. They told me some of their stories. It’s an incredible place that rarely gets talked about in your daily routine, but there’s an economic boom happening that is changing the way the world views economic booms. And the culture implications strike at the heart of many of the reasons the world is in so much conflict.
So I am going to figure out a way to go to Dubai next year, just to see What is Really Going On Over There. Dr. Sullivan is speaking over there in May, so there might be a win-win and a connection for me to go.
It became clear over dinner: I need to start paying attention to Dubai.
Penelope Trunk loses cellular phones like most people lose pocket change.
I met and became great friends with Penelope long before I ever met her in person. Like 2 years before we ever met we were blogging together and talking on the phone and we really got to know each other well. So well that we talked about going into business together in some way. But we had never met until about 3 months ago when she came out to Palo Alto. For the longest time I had this funny pipe dream that we would start and run a company together, but never actually meet in person (ever). And then we would write a book about it. Or something like that.
Penelope and I had the opportunity to host an impromptu, Brainstorming Breakout session at the conference (one of the other conference speakers had to cancel at the last minute, so we pinch-hitted without a lot of advance notice).
Given that she’s often on an airplane, interviewing people, etc, it’s a little funny that she loses her cellular phone or hasn’t figured out a solution for tethering. She lost it at the conference (she can swear like a trucker incidentally), and she shared that she actually has two cellular phones ready to go at any one time (already set up with the cellular service provider), as a preemptive counter-measure because she loses them so frequently. I think it would be easier to get a belt clip, despite the fashion faux pas associated with doing so. Another lesson in paying attention.
An October night in South Florida can stay with you forever…
So I was at the conference and couldn’t sleep. This happens to me pretty much every time I travel. In fact, when I know I am traveling for business, I pretty much resign myself that it’s a slow road to complete physical disaster, because I simply don’t sleep. I try to sleep. It's just that I can't.
On my recent to trip to Asia, I got Ambien, which seems to help if I have an 8 hour window that I can use for sleep, but if I don’t have that much time, I just get ready for The Long Slow Meltdown. And I rarely have a full 8 hours of sleeptime when I’m on the road, given the pressures of work and meetings and after hours dinners et cetera. So I melt down a lot. Which is not so good when you are speaking in front of 500 people.
So anyway, I couldn’t sleep and so I went outside and created the most amazing memory on the patio with the pool and the beach right behind it. It was one of those perfect nights. The doors opened and the perfection of the blue of the pool in the darkness with the clouds and the wind (so much wind) and the crash of the waves…the memory is burned and seared into my brain in the most indelible way. Even if I had taken a picture it wouldn’t have been the same as the memory in my head. It’s one of those rare memories in life when Everything Is Just Right that you end up carrying it with you forever and smiling back on it.
So on that night, even though I should have been sleeping, I was really paying attention.
And I am so glad I did.
Going just a little bit farther can achieve a whole lot more.
I had the pleasure of meeting and introducing at the ERE conference, Steve Lavin the famous UCLA basketball coach and now ESPN sportscaster. If you watch college basketball you’ll recognize him and his voice, he commentates with Brent Musberger. He is a really genuine, honest guy when you meet him in person. It’s impossible not to like him. One of those types of people. As head coach at UCLA, Lavin and his staff recruited and signed the No. 1 rated recruiting class in the country in 1998 and 2001. Hence, he is speaking at a recruiting conference.
One of the things he spoke at length about was what he called ‘incrementalism’ or doing just a little bit more over time, and how that can create dramatic life results. He used it in relation to sports, but I think the same is true in one’s career.
I’ve been assessing and observing talent in my career for something like 15 years. I’ve observed that most successful people practice incrementalism in some form or another, and sometimes in only very small ways, and it dramatically changes their trajectory in both life and career. This is a life strategy that everyone should adopt. Most people have lofty goals that usually can’t be achieved unless they step off the track of their formal career and practice incrementalism in other things.
It’s one of the reasons I speak at conferences, even though doing so is something I find to be pretty difficult and speaking in front of 700 people is something that always makes me nervous (I get physically nauseous actually…but then come to think of it maybe that’s from the lack of sleep…) and it takes a lot out of me mentally. The most successful people do things that are hard or scary or risky in order to increase the average returns they get out of life. By doing so, they increase the chance that more value will to come to them.
I don’t know exactly what value attending a conference, or continuing my blogging, or speaking in public even when it’s inconvenient or difficult to do so, or doing the other entrepreneurial things that I do outside of Google will ultimately net for me, but I know that as a strategy of incrementalism it has the potential to provide great returns. And I’ve observed that the most successful people all seem to do it.
Blogging and participating in social media is largely an act of incrementalism, a relatively small investment, but one that everyone I know who does it claims has tremendous value to their lives and career. The people I know that practice this form of incrementalism all swear by it.
And so I discovered a lot at the ERE conference this year. More than any other event I’ve attended actually, and I met a lot of amazing people and created some really great relationships, and one really great memory from a night I couldn’t sleep because I was really paying attention.
And it got me started blogging again. And thinking more.
And most importantly, it got me paying attention again.
And all of that is a very good thing.