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7/5/2012
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World Domination Summit: A Personal Life Strategy?

An innovation junkie attends a gathering of "amazing people" seeking a "remarkable life in a conventional world." But are they just bragging and promoting themselves?

"To World Domination!" That's the swaggering tagline of the World Domination Summit, an "unconference" that I'm headed to in Portland, Oregon this weekend. We are all "amazing people with big plans," who seek a "remarkable life in a conventional world." We are a "worldwide army," each of us with our own "dispatch" page. It is a Millennial-generation feel-good fest. And, it appears that just about every attendee who's "doing it right" has something to sell me so that I can be as awesome as we're all saying we are. I'm a bit nervous, honestly, that I'm headed into a multi-level marketing morass of mumbo-jumbo.

So why am I going? Well, if you're a regular reader of this column, you probably know I am an innovation junkie, and a firm believer in the Einstein principle (the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results). So I try really hard to get outside of the normal "IT dude" circles to have conversations and do some professional development and learning. (For example, my recent interview with Eric Ries helped me understand how some principles normally associated only with startups and ventures can be applied to large enterprise IT organizations.)

So it is with World Domination Summit. Even as I am nervous that at every turn someone will be marketing me for their new course about how to reach "10,000 NEW FOLLOWERS" or the "big bag of chips" version of "Creating Personal Freedom through a Very Small Business" (which the creator of the conference will be glad to let you have for a low, low price of $129), I am going because I think that there's something to all of these micropreneur concepts.

Even as I read one attendee's profile and wonder how the activity of "Cultivating Transdisciplinary Consciousness" plays out in the real world, or if it's so much malarkey, I am fascinated by one presenter's "how to humanize business" theme (As I've said at a TEDx talk, I'm a big believer that your best employees won't tolerate brutal treatment, so it's in the business' interest to humanize). And, to be fair to the creator of the conference, I am interested in his notion of the "$100 startup," which seems like Lean Startup on a starvation diet.

The thing about WDS that makes me the MOST uncomfortable is the self-promotion, writ large at every opportunity. We are all "like-minded geniuses and kickers of supreme non-conventional ass," according to one attendee. Boy, does that make me uncomfortable. I think I'm no dummy, but most of what I have accomplished has been by outworking the competition, not by some transcendental genius on my part. On the other hand, as one CIO mentor once said to me, the CIO needs to also be the chief marketing officer of the IT organization, also known as self-promotion for the organization.

True fact: IT organizations tend to perish because they don't communicate enough about all of the fantastic work that they do to save money, enhance the customer and employee experience, and create new business opportunities. I have gotten better over the years about highlighting the good work of the IT organization that I am responsible for, but I am still pretty horrible at what pessimists would call self promotion, or as optimists might say, telling my own story. A mentor of mine once took me to task for not "telling my story" more, pointing out that staff wants and needs to be inspired by their boss. Sometimes you learn most by entering your zone of discomfort. So, maybe WDS will help me tell that story a bit better.

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I can also already tell that there will be learnings to be had about digital lifestyle. For example, one attendee tells how she runs two companies and raises three children by being a digital entrepreneur. At large enterprises, we like to think that we can lure the best and brightest. But can we? Only the other day, a woman at a large consumer products company was telling me how they don't allow people to work from home until they've worked for the company for at least a year. "You've got to earn the privilege," she said. Translation: "We assume that you're stupid and lazy until proven otherwise, and we judge people by the hours that your butt is in the seat instead of your productivity."

But in a world where there are starting to be ways to earn a living outside of a large organization telling you where you need to do your work, maybe the best, brightest, most motivated and creative people will tell you to stick your "earn the privilege" where the sun don't shine, and go out and make money on their own.

It's easy to write off the folks who are doing unconventional things and (let's call it what it is) bragging about themselves in the process. But, as Facebook and Google have stripped away our abilities to have a private life, and as large organizations have made it abundantly clear that, while loyalty is expected to the organization, the organization will never love you back, maybe this over-telling and self promotion is the right answer to helping us all create our best professional and personal lives. Maybe the notion that having a personal life strategy and telling everyone about it will help us all get what we're looking for. If there really is an answer to be had about how to have an awesome life with the resources you need among the hawkers and peddlers of self-help and braggadocio, seems like WDS is the place to get it.

Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at jf@feldman.org or at @_jfeldman.

At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference, C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

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