To be honest, I have a complicated relationship with Chris Guillebeau and his work. Just like with Seth Godin, Mark Boyle and other “disruptive” intellectuals, Guillebeau’s ideas sound too good to be true and too simple to be universal. His concept behind The Art of Non-Conformity is exhilarating. Not only did I download his Brief Guide to World Domination, but I printed it and included it in a very special folder I read for inspiration and empowerment, among The ‘Undeclared for Life’ Manifesto by Puttylike’s Emilie Wapnick and The (nearly) Ultimate Guide to Better Writing edited by Mary Jaksch from Write to Done. I wanted to believe that, like him, one could travel around the world on a budget using nothing but intelligence and thriftiness. That one could publish several books independently and attract the power of thousands under the wings of tenacity, integrity and tenacity again.
But is the dream of infinite liberty, unexpected adventure and never-ending creativity plausible for everyone? Or do you have to be a white, fit male, already well-off and supported by the safety net of his parents, with university studies, native or bilingual proficiency of the English language and heaps of volunteering experience? Would you have to be someone who has reached both the deep end of the pool and the highest diving platform, if you know what I mean? Would it be possible to visit every corner on the planet when all my yearly savings go straight to crossing the ocean merely to touch base with my relatives and staying in control with immigration circumstances? I wonder if, between fund-raising for water and exploring Tuvalu, he has a chance to enjoy Sunday dinner with his parents.
Cynical, ja. But do you know who else was cynical about the whole thing? Jim Shields, from Twist & Shout. He initially booked his flight and tickets to Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit as a business opportunity. A scary business opportunity in dear Portlandia, Oregon.
World Domination Summit. The name would fit a slightly New Age-y “Axes of Evil” convention: a Power Point presentation on nuclear bombs at 11am, followed by a yoga taster at the Pol Pot Pavilion. Put a bird on it, and watch it blow.
Before you call NATO and flush your yerba mate stash down the toilet, let me tell you that this was not a hippie terrorist extravaganza. It was a congregation of creatives fueled by organic coffee, unconventional projects and all the best intentions. Over 2500 entrepreneurs of all genders, colours, origins and languages; laughing, learning and crying at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Yes, most of them were young, lean and intimidating to Jim (if he’s a Morlock amongst the Eloi, I must be an Orc amidst the Elves), but they didn’t let it get to their heads. On the contrary, they would smile at everybody, high fiving on the street whenever they saw anyone wearing their official backpack.
The Summit focused on three main topics: Community, Adventure and Action. Community was, according to Jim (Shields, not Belushi), the most powerful element. Centred on sharing and giving back to our environment as a way to turn it into a better place. Going not only to the main events, but to the fringe impromptu colloquiums organised by other attendants at cafeterias, parks and hotel lobbies. Jim’s own event attracted about 50 peers, and they had to move from the reception to the bar. There were also “academy” sessions where people shared their skills on blogging, productivity and any other useful (now or later) activity. Gratitude was in the air. Getting and giving happened at the same time, sliding across a Möbius strip of inspiration.
Adventure was what dragged Guillebeau into draining and nurturing his Frequent Flier cards. The lack of fear of failure. No ifs, no buts. Taking risks like there’s nothing left to lose, because most of the time, there isn’t. Of course, this doesn’t mean throwing yourself off the terrace wrapped on the Mexican flag as the path to flawless victory. On Scott Berkun’s notes, AJ Jacobs from The Year of Living Biblically explained that there were three rules he tried to abide (and which kind of guided him through following every rule on the Bible for a year because “YOLO” .- Matthew 38:47): be bold, be experimental and be strategic. Not bad. To get our Hegel freak on: achieving absolute freedom through rationality. If Plan A doesn’t work, there’s always Plan B.
However, Action seems to be the hardest word, and the reason why you and I are not going anywhere. Those goals aren’t going to achieve themselves. That plane seat is not going to sit on itself. Your hair won’t be automatically washed in your sleep. That vegan BBQ food truck grill isn’t going to experience spontaneous combustion any time soon. This blog post won’t be written automatically by monkeys (I swear, banana). Action is key, and members of the Summit pushed each other to the pedal. The Author Incubator gives writers all the help they can get as long as they finish what they started in 3-6 months. Wapnick herself made a bet that she would finish her first long book within a year or pay $1000 dollars to her friend. She lost, but since all she had left to do was some proofreading and finishing touches, her debt was pardoned. Maybe what we need to do, in order to put our thoughts into action, is think of them as if our lives (or at least our wallets) depended on them.
As I’ve said, Jim was a bit cynical about the Summit, but a few speeches made him break into tears. When something can overwhelm the non-believer, then it’s worth trying, isn’t it? I’ll try to see for myself and attend next year on the way to/from Mexico. Just started saving for it. That’s Action speaking.