As part of my ongoing commitment to "bulk positive randomness" and my focus on meeting more people under 30 who are at a similar professional point as me, I participated in a retreat in Tennessee last weekend with about 15 other entrepreneurs, consultants, writers, and grad students.
Everyone was under age 30 (most under 25) and we spent three nights living in a huge house (11+ bedrooms, two kitchens, two living rooms) nestled next to the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee.
Besides a couple organized conversations and two yoga sessions (including a 30 min Laughter Yoga session which was fascinating and fun and I recommend everyone do it at least once), the weekend was totally unstructured. The itinerary was: wake up, sit around and talk to others, continue talking, eat, talk some more, eat again, talk some more, go to bed, repeat.
I was reminded that where you are can affect the quality of what you talk about. Since many of us traveled from California to a very redneck part of the South, it made us more committed to getting the most out of the experience. It also was just culturally interesting and memorable. We smoked a pig for 11 hours and ate with with real BBQ sauce. We went out for lunch one day at a place that served almost entirely meat and fried things. The accent was strong. The religious imagery ubiquitous. These new and different sights and smells colored the conversation in an interesting way, I think.
Right after arriving at the house, I was talking to a young guy about water issues and he did three things that immediately soared through my "litmus tests" for determining whether I’ll like someone. First, he took notes as we talked, jotting down book references and ideas. Second, he revealed he had a blog (usually suggests intellectual curiosity). Third, he referenced the TED Talks which is not an indicator in and of itself but suggests he probably consumes the same kind of online intellectual content as me (like Bloggingheads or BookForum or blogs in general).
I am cautious about attending events or conferences. Most conferences are a waste of time or money. There’s too much variance in the quality of the attendees, the speakers are hit-or-miss, the networking opportunities are rushed, and the actual learning (for me) could be better obtained on my own. But, like the St. Gallen Symposium or two other off-the-record events I participate in, when there’s a strong filter on attendees and when there’s an emphasis on conversation instead of dreadful "expert" panels or keynote speakers, the group dynamic among like minds can be uniquely stimulating.