Social Skills, WDS

The Greatest Weapon for World Domination

I used to be terrible at talking to people. In fact, I was terrible at anything social. My strategy for parties was to stick close to one friend. I’d follow them like a puppy dog if need be. My strategy for everything else was to only talk to people I already knew.

I was not just an introvert. Introverts are often great socially; they just like it in short bursts. I was an introvert who was shite at talking to anyone.

I’ve talked before about the value of social bravery and how I trained my skills. In the last few years I’ve become a lot more extroverted, and a lot better at talking to new people. But last week it was time to put it to the ultimate test.

Last week, for the first time, I touched down in Portland, Oregon. My mission: to take over the world.

The World Domination Summit

The occasion was the World Domination Summit, organized by the remarkable Chris Guillebeau. Chris is a powerful writer who pens a soft, honest voice but advocates big ideas. I’ll gladly admit that his (free) ebook 279 Days to Overnight Success is perhaps the single biggest influence on the shape this blog has taken.

The purpose of the World Domination Summit (WDS) was, essentially, to bring together hundreds of the most awesome people possible. I’ve really never seen anything like it. The event had the format of a conference, but it was not industry-specific, nor tied to any one issue or topic. The main thing uniting the attendees is that we believe in Chris’ message of unconventional strategies for life, work and travel.

The result is that a wide variety of people were present. Entrepreneurs and moguls, writers and artists, digital nomads, bloggers, the list goes on. Some are just starting out, others are established names. But what we all have in common is we are innovative, creative types—and we take no prisoners.

Photo credit: Armosa Studios

500 of your Biggest Fans

Chris frames all of his greatest projects in terms of changing the world. Out of the many people using that phrase, he’s one of the few I believe.

But the people I met at WDS have the same ambition. Every person there has some kind of project or dream, and they’re actually doing them. (They’re also very ExPoMod.) The effect? When you talk about your wildest, craziest dream, what you get is a sea of people pitching in with advice, suggestions, and ideas for how you can do it.

For example, my great dream is to walk from Minneapolis to South America. When I tell people about my dream, I’m used to getting a few responses:

You know it’s not safe, right?

Good luck crossing all those borders.

You won’t be able to support yourself without working that long.

Are you crazy?

With this group, the very first time I opened my mouth to talk about my dream someone pointed at a thoughtful-looking blonde guy at the next table. “Have you talked to Nate? Nate’s walking across America!” Other responses included advice on how to stay safe, suggestions for how to make a living while traveling that long, and being told I’m awesome.

You can see why I like this crowd.

But what struck me most is that the advice I got was not just rah-rah cheerleading. It was practical advice based on experience running location-independent businesses and traveling off the tourist trail.

The name “World Domination Summit” is something of a tongue-in-cheek title. No one there actually intends to rule the world. But after spending a weekend with these 500 people I can’t escape the idea that they—we, all of us—really are poised to have a lasting and profound influence on the world.

Photo credit: Armosa Studios

Weapon of Choice

When I departed for WDS, I was very conscious that I was not going there for the speakers. I was going for the other attendees.

I was mindful of some advice that Colin Wright gave me about building my blog: “You should be increasing your network like a crazy person.” (Colin’s book Networking Awesomely is the only reason I have any idea how to do that.) Any regular conference-goer knows that the main allure is networking, and usually that means a lot of awkward business lunches and palming your card out to everyone you meet. But I’ve learned that inviting people to parties, buying them drinks, and getting to know them as people rather than business contacts—you know, actually making friends—is more fun, more genuine, and way more effective.

And that is why WDS was a test for me. It was one of the biggest opportunities I’ve ever had to meet people who can play a role in launching my dream. And my success or failure depended 100% upon my social skills. My newbie, fledgling social skills.

A few of the amazing people I now count as dear friends:

  • James Watt, @adventuringraw. I knew James from Twitter, but had no idea that his head is a supercomputer of all things marketing. His next business project will put that knowledge to use for small business owners in an incredible new way. But even more than business talk, we really connected discussing martial arts, health, and building community. I’m amazed how much James and I have in common, and how at home I feel with him after just a few conversations.
  • Tessa Zeng, @teezeng. Tessa is equal parts artist and philosopher, and the two parts dance together with uncompromising grace. One conversation with her caused me to scrap and rewrite Walk Like a God. Tessa has a unique ability to step back and see the vital role that art can play in changing minds, which is the topic of her ebook Change Creation. I’ve never seen anyone so deftly isolate what effect a work has (or doesn’t) and how to amplify it.
  • Matt Langdon, @theherocc. When people ask Matt what he does for a living, he gets to say this: “I teach kids how to be heroes.” And he really does. Matt’s in-school educational program is built around the simple premise that the opposite of a hero is not a villain, it’s a bystander. With this core idea children are shown how they can make dramatic change in their schools and communities simply by speaking up instead of staying silent. My favorite thing I learned from Matt is that kids do, in fact, know the difference between a celebrity and a hero.

Deployment

Social skills are the tool with the lowest failure rate. Have you ever thought about where your social skills come from, and how they got the way they are? I spent years working on mine, and many of my friends don’t believe I used to be an introvert. But my skills are still a work in progress, something I hone a little more every day.

Please leave a comment and let me know what lets you be more comfortable socially. Is there a particular experience that gave you your social skills? Or were you just born that way? I look forward to hearing what the Rogue Priest community has to say!

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30 thoughts on “The Greatest Weapon for World Domination

      • @Matt — I was just musing yesterday, “What are we doing as a culture that makes people so afraid of responsibility? I was thinking of the Kitty Genovese case, and the study I read in Uni about how like by-standers were to intervene based on the number of people present. A single witness will almost always lend aid, and the number drops sharply after four.

        It looks like you are training youngsters to overcome that “madness of crowds”. Good Work.

        • Shanna, I use Kitty Genovese as an example to show kids the mental barriers they have to fight to be a hero. There are a lot of things that hold us back, but training and practice can help us overcome them.

  1. Mockingbird says:

    I hesitate to call myself an introvert since I really do just suck at making new friends. You’ve inspired me to work harder at fixing that. Thanks! <3

  2. Love these reflections, and I’m honored to be mentioned! Your writing is such a welcome mix of down-to-earth invitation and insights. I don’t know how you do it, but every time I encounter your words I realize something new about myself. Drew, I’m fucking glad to know + have met you! :)

  3. it really is amazing how many of the WDS’ers had that ‘former socially inept’ thing going. I was pretty surprised to hear you were in that camp too. It’s kind of empowering actually, given that you’re coming from the same origin as me, and that you’re a few steps down the road in some directions I’d really like to go. Every story, no matter how heroic, has already been lived. It’s always a blessing to meet in person those people that are currently walking the same road.

    Onward and Upward.

    • “Every story, no matter how heroic, has already been lived.” Yes – and the joy comes in putting your own, uniquely “you” spin on it, and making the discoveries along the way that never could have been communicated in words.

      Onward and upward indeed my friend!

    • Janneke, this may not be much consolation but it is the *World* Domination Summit – we had people coming from many different countries! In fact, I see there was one person from The Netherlands. From Leiden, it looks like.

      (There’s a world map of all attendees here: http://worlddominationsummit.com/ – just scroll down).

      Next year maybe you could hop a plane and come?

    • Thanks for commenting Gillian! Yes, this is something that struck me – it was so completely different than talking to “normal” people :P I have a few friends who deliver super helpful criticism & help me improve my ideas, but most people just object to anything “different.” Stepping out of that kind of atmosphere for a while was truly empowering.

      What project or idea are you working on, that people gave advice or ideas for?

  4. I love your reflections on the #WDS Drew! I think you capture the essence of the event and the people perfectly.

    I also am someone who is an introvert and was from the socially inept camp. I can totally relate to your description of finding one friend to connect with and follow around at parties. In big crowds of people that I don’t know my strategy was to stick to the outside edges and wait for people to come to me. I have to constantly work at staying engaged and connected or I can easily drift away and become an observer.

    The WDS was different because everyone there was open and interesting. There was so much acceptance and support happening all around. It was easy to show up and be seen there.

    • Hi Leah, thanks so much for your comment. And it was great meeting you in person!

      I found myself wishing I could spend a longer time at WDS, like maybe…. I dunno… 9 months a year for four years. I think spending that much time with that crowd of people would be a decent alternative to college. Chris should really get working on that :)

      A lot of the people there went through a socially inept period. I think it’s common among creative thinkers and non-conformists. After all, if they had fit into society as-is they would have no need to think outside the box. So that period of social exclusion might be a catalyst for many of us.

  5. Drew I saw you around WDS but we did not get to connect. Maybe next year. I love what you wrote here and am fascinated by the whole social introvert thing.

    As a born extrovert I have actually come to see being an introvert as a sort of advantage. I guess extremes in either direction need to learn a balance.

    I spent much of my life and all of my youth flitting about making friends at every social event, often in the center of whatever was happening, but I made few real and lasting connections. I was a gatherer of acquaintances most of whom were forgotten quickly.

    I have had to learn to step back and make more conscious decisions about who I will engage. At WDS I made a point of meeting a few people and taking my time with the rest. The result I made a few solid connections (hello Leah Shapiro) and I believe made a lasting impression on a few. It has taken 52 years but I believe I have found my balance!

    • Ha, Gwyn, I’m not sure I had ever pictured it from that perspective. I know there are advantages and disadvantages to both mindsets, but I had never thought of one of the disadvantages extroversion being not connecting as deeply with other people. I really like that you were able to identify that on your own and then switch up your behavior a bit to start changing it. That takes a lot of self-awareness and hard work, and it’s something we talk about a lot here in the Heroic Life :)

      Thanks so much for posting by the way. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you, but maybe that’s for the best since you were trying not to just run around and meet a million people!

  6. >many of my friends don’t believe I used to be an introvert.

    It’s funny how people think the way you are now must be the way you’ve always been. I get the same thing when I talk about how socially awkward I used to be, and also when I mention how meditation has made me more calm and focused. They give me this skeptical look and say something like, “Yeah, I think you were always that way, and you just think meditation helped you.” Hmm…

  7. Great stuff Drew, and thanks for the photo inclusion! I had such an incredible experience at the World Domination Summit and am happy to have such an insightful summary of what I also experienced. Keep up the good work! Cheers, Tracy

  8. Drew-

    I *wanted* to meet you, and I missed you. :( (I think?) I was one of those social butterflies running around sparkling at people.

    This conference….proved to me for the first time that it’s OK to be a little awesome. :)
    I’ve struggled for YEARS with low self esteem, and reached a “fuck it” point. I’m GOING to email, call, talk to all sorts of people whether they are “big” or not because they’re fascinating!

    So strange to have people think flaky me as influential and worthy of conversation.
    Making the mistake that Karen said–“I’m comparing my insides to everyone else’s outsides.”

    I’m glad that you overcame your personal demons. :)

    Jeanie

  9. When I heard you say you had a goal of walking to S. America, I thought there’s someone who can pull it off.

    There are people where it would be a crazy notion, sorry for saying it. I know people that tried to walk from Minnesota to California and didn’t make it. But these are individual situations.

    You, you’ve prepared. You know what you’re doing. With you it’s not crazy, but I can see where people would wonder.

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