My Adventures at Portland’s World Domination SummitWhen I flew home from the World Domination Summit (WDS) in Portland, Oregon, I brought a new friend along with me—and I didn’t even need to buy her a plane ticket. She’s a Brave Bot. She has big eyes and no legs and is the size of a domino tile. And when I need bravery, she’s supposed to give me some.

More on this later, but first you might be wondering what the hell the World Domination Summit is.

Chris Guillebeau
Chris Guillebeau

WDS is the brainchild of writer/world traveler/entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau, a tall, soft-spoken guy who spent years providing humanitarian aid in Africa. When he returned to the U.S., Guillebeau realized he didn’t want a “real job.” He wanted to live an extraordinary life by doing good and doing what he wanted. His books (The Art of Non-Conformity and The $100 Startup) and online classes on travel and small business are aimed at people who desire the same kind of freedom.

Out of this community came the World Domination Summit—a weekend event that has grown from 500 attendees to 3,000 in four years. Each year, the summit attempts to answer the question, “How do we live an extraordinary life in a conventional world?” The principles of the summit sincerely explore the triple pillars of community, adventure, and service.

Guillebeau takes no salary and powers the WDS mostly with volunteers, and the proceeds of one event pay for the next, as well as funding a nonprofit foundation. My fellow 3,000 attendees were supportive, entrepreneurial, and very neat (cleanest bathrooms at a conference ever). Along with the keynote speaker events, there were low-cost smaller workshops on subjects like blogging as a business, simplicity, nerd fitness, and giving away your art. There was lots of tweeting but also a crafts class, kickass opening and closing parties, and a bagpiper in a Darth Vader mask on a unicycle. (And the bagpipes spewed fire!)

It was Portland, after all.

There were lots of speakers, and many participants were invited onstage to tell their stories. Family was a big theme, as was bravery. These were some of the greatest hits:

A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs

A. J. Jacobs

The kickoff speaker was the hilarious bestselling author A. J. Jacobs, who once spent a year trying to follow the Bible literally. Now he’s on a new quest to make his family bigger—to create a Global Family Reunion to rendezvous next year at the New York Hall of Science. Jacobs’s genealogical research led him to discover that he is a distant cousin to George H.W. Bush, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Daniel Radcliffe. Apparently, if most of us did just a little online genealogy research, we would connect to those kinds of cousins too…all across the globe. “Which is,” Jacobs said, “bad news for bigots.”

He invited us all to visit his site and attend the Reunion—especially if we are his cousins, even 14 times removed…which we probably are.

Michael Hyatt
Michael Hyatt

Michael Hyatt

After a highly successful career in Christian publishing, Hyatt realized that much of his “driven life” had been in shameful reaction to his alcoholic father’s “drifting life.” Crises in family and work caused him to rethink and choose what he calls a “designed life,” which he shapes with the following questions:

  • How do I want to be remembered?
  • What is important to me?
  • What single brave decision do I need to make today?
Dee Williams
Dee Williams

Dee Williams

Very small houses are Dee Williams’s specialty. After a heart attack and a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, she quit her job, sold her regular house, and built a tiny, 84-square-foot house. She wanted to focus on what really mattered. She lived in an elderly neighbor’s backyard and became the older woman’s friend and caretaker.

Williams now runs a company that shows other people how to build and live tiny, but her lesson was about bravery: She had turned a travel blanket from Delta into a superhero cape to help her continue to be brave. She gifted the audience with imaginary capes, and we all stood in superhero position, ready to do heroic things.

Scott BerkunScott Berkun

I’ll admit it: I am a Scott Berkun groupie. Berkun writes readable, openhearted bestselling books on project management, public speaking, and managing virtual teams. His virtual team book is The Year Without PantsReally. Berkun is a great, curmudgeonly speaker, and his presentation managed to mention the creative processes of Pablo Picasso, Yoko Ono, and Microsoft. But here was his big news: You can do everything right and still fail.

This was bracing, after all the positivity, and the fact that it came from someone who is as successful as Berkun provided a great lesson.

John Francis
John Francis

John Francis

After witnessing the aftermath of an oil spill in San Francisco in 1971, Francis stopped riding in motorized vehicles (a vow that lasted until 1994), took a vow of silence, and walked across the country for 17 years to promote environmental justice. While he was silent he completed three college degrees, including a Ph.D. in land management. And played the banjo. And he has a book, of course, called Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. (There’s a rumor that Will Smith bought the movie rights.)

My takeaway: Vows of silence may actually improve your presentations! Banjos help, too.

Gary Hirsch
Gary Hirsch

Gary Hirsch

Gary Hirsch is a jumping bean of an artist and a guy who brings the tools of improvisation to businesses and organizations. First he asked us:

  • What’s one brave thing you’ve done?
  • What’s one brave thing you want to do but haven’t?

Then he gave each attendee a helper: a Brave Bot. Brave Bots get around, and they can be made by anybody. Hirsch teaches grade-school kids how to make them and give them away to their community of helpers. As a result, Brave Bots have landed in the hands of Boston’s first responders and may actually be going into space.

So here is my one brave thing: I was pretty afraid to tell you about my Brave Bot. After all, I’m a tough New Yorker. But now you know.

I just have to figure out her name.

All photos by Armosa Studios.


  • mbcoudal
    Posted July 31, 2014 5:40 pm 0Likes

    Thanks for sharing these insights. I felt like I was there. And I always wanted to go.

  • Martha Garvey
    Posted July 31, 2014 10:29 pm 0Likes

    Thanks for the compliment, and you are welcome. I really think WDS is something special. And I finally named my BraveBot today: Edna. For Edna Mode from The Incredibles.

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