Don’t Be Normal! Be Weird! #ICON14

A view of Phoenix, Arizona from the downtown Sheraton hotel.

I snagged my schwag bag and a pile of papers, ads, and guides for #ICON14 from the front desk.  Of course I used my QR code to check in. The bright green and black bag they’d equipped me with was certainly big enough for all the free stuff being handed out throughout the event, along with my laptop (clever) and an extra pair of comfortable shoes. #Winesister Chelsea and I made it just in time to see the last half of Simon Sinek’s “Reconnect With Your Why; How Great Leaders Inspire and Eat Last. ” As we would soon find out, more than 3,000 Entrepreneurs and small business/marketing/social media enthusiasts piled into that Phoenix’s Convention on the sunny 90 degree Wednesday for #ICON14, hosted by Infusionsoft.

Put others before yourself and help others. Oh, and put that phone away, Simon Sinek encouraged.  We’re becoming automated, mindless zombie robots! Stop being rude! Pay attention to the people in front of you. Fully inspired for the day, we made our way to the first Breakout Sessions and learned about everything that Infusionsoft software COULD be doing for the Wine Sisterhood, and isn’t yet. We still have lots to learn. Hunger finally setting in, we walked to one of the places Chelsea had mapped out as one of the best rated places in the area to eat, and we found ourselves at the Angel’s Trumpet Ale house, a modern… bright green painted venue with a massive chalkboard of ales and wines. We arrived 10 minutes before they opened, and wait for the magnificent broom handled door to open along with at least 10 other people. That’s when you know its a good place to eat. We tried the local brews with the Angel Trumpet’s famous pretzels and cheese.

Walking back through the Expo Hall and over the massive escalators, I noticed the well-put-together men’s outfits. Pointy leather saddle shoes and well fit pants, often accompanied by a bow-tie and thick glasses crowded up the escalators. Just imagine 100’s of  Leonard Hofstadters from the Big Bang Theory, with bow-ties and man-bags draped over their shoulders walking around a conference. These are our dreamers, our big ideas, our entrepreneurs.

It was time for Peter Shankman. We meandered our way to the first 10 rows on the far edge of the room, I was excited for his talk, the guy who hated the movie “Titanic” and capitalized on his idea of spending his last few dollars to print a bunch of t-shirts to sell in Times Square saying “It sank – get over it.” He made a profit. It sounded like the story of the smiley face tees from Forrest Gump, and clearly it taught him a bit about entrepreneurship. He had so many shirt requests he had his dad’s high school students packaging up boxes of the shirts to be shipped out for him, outsourcing his efforts to others. This all from the guy who eventually started HARO (Help A Reporter Out), a service I use on a daily basis, which he mentions starting from his living room, on the couch, sitting between his two cats.  He’s also potentially the only person besides Aliza Sherman, who could possibly be guilty of “drunk-domain-name-buying.” I know Aliza gets big ideas and wants to park the titles on gmail, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram with a great sense of urgency, as if someone else is going to have the same momentous idea at the same time.  Apparently so does Peter Shankman.
PeterShankman1The most impressive thing about Peter Shankman’s speech though, is his style. He shares stories, personal trials and experiences from the guy who sold t-shirts in Times Square, who went on to be a triathelete and Iron Man, and sky diver! He know’s what hard work means, and knows what that exhilaration and high of being on top of the world feels like.  He pokes at the laziness of many Americans who aren’t willing to work to get where they want. He told us a story of a graduate student who wrote him an email using chat-speak, and asking for a job. “Learn to write!” he said. Bad content is killing us! Brevity is key. I’m amazed at how many people are too lazy, or don’t know the difference between your and you’re and whose and who’s, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to go to college to learn the difference. More than discussing small business marketing capabilities, Shankman is a motivational speaker. An advocate for functioning as a respectable human being in society.

Having just read his last blog post, from Friday April 25th, What Protects You From Your Unexpected Darkness? I’m even more impressed with him. Peter Shankman is real, he bawled his eyes out on the airplane back from Vegas returning home from speaking at #ICON14 after reading about whatever it was that inspired him to write that last blog post. What do you do when shit hits the fan? He asks. He knows how to live, and feel, he’s human, and he makes that very clear in his style. He doesn’t use slides. He’s the only speaker I’ve seen who sipped a coke, instead of a water from the podium. He challenges people to live through kindness and personability, a secret trick it seems that all great entrepreneurs have learned. It was also noticebaly different meeting him in person than many of the other speakers at #ICON14. He engages and talks to each person he meets, and didn’t just zombie-sign books for people and smile for pictures, he talked with them. In fact, as soon as I posted the picture we got on Instagram and Twitter, he liked it, and commented, and said to keep in touch. Actually, apparently I looked upset upon walking up to him, and he said so! “You look upset, tell me what’s wrong,” he said. If you sign up for his blog you’ll find out just how personable his style is, you get a note that says

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. If you ever feel like chatting, email me personally. I respond to all my own email, and am always up for a cup of coffee somewhere fun.”

That is followed up with another message thanking you personally for signing up for his blog updates. Somebody clearly knows how to use Infusionsoft to its fullest potential. Regardless, who does that anymore? Ask strangers out to coffee because you care, because you want to share ideas, where you may or may not gain something from the situation. Its not, “lets chat and I’ll see if I have anything to gain by chatting with you, and then we can meet for coffee.” Its after presentations such as Peter Shankman’s and Simen Sinek’s that the audience would be teary eyed and come up to the podium to ask tearful questions regarding their own personal struggles in journeys as Artists or Entrepreneurs. After Seth Godin’s talk, you find yourself asking why you’re following the entire herd of people out the same single door, instead of opening up the other.

Painting for Sale by

Painting for Sale by

Bright and early at 8:00am on Thursday we made it to Casey Graham from The Rocket Company who reminded us to “dominate” one area, instead of dabbling in all fields. This is something I’m still guilty of… in life, I want to do it all.  Still convinced by the sell, sell, sell method, Graham also jabs in the right hook reality that “ideas” don’t buy you dinner, money does. So you can let your big ideas float around in your head all day long, all you want, you can daydream, but until you do something about your ideas, you remain a dreamer, instead of a do-er. Granted, do-ers are born out of dreamers, but so many of them never let their dreams go anywhere. Probably the most inspiring part of that presentation though, is the fact that he brought slides of his own little girl Darby’s business, she decided that she wants to sell her own paintings in order to make money to buy the things she wants in life. The kids of entrepreneurs are going places these days. This little girl learned something that many kids don’t learn until much later. “She can have anything in the store she wants! Of course she can! If she earns the money to buy it,” he told us.  From those painting sales she donates money to a little girl who doesn’t have any money. That kid is gonna go places. Her website is called DarbyDesigns, read about her big ideas!

Social Media Engagement for Dummies and Mom, Incorporated

Social Media Engagement for Dummies and Mom, Incorporated

We found the bookstore in Expo Hall and oogled over the wonderful speaker’s books for sale. We stumbled upon Aliza’s two books first, wishing she was there with us to enjoy the excitement and activities of #ICON14. We felt like we were in her world, without her.  But our hearts were with her in Florida anyway, dealing with pains and struggles and decisions neither Chelsea or I can fathom. You can read about and help here: Let’s Help Aliza Get Her Dad Back to Arizona!

The last day of #ICON14 we sat through the panel that Aliza was scheduled to moderate.  We listened to these powerful women discuss just what Work/Life/Integration means. It is dropping what you’re doing and going to be with your ailing parent another state. Its making a point to not miss your daughter’s first daddy-daughter lunch or dance at school because of work. Its bringing your kids to your speaking engagements with you so they understand what you’re doing, its listening to your partner, and being in tune with their needs and struggles, as well.

Alongside Aliza’s books were Seth Godin’s array of brightly colored “Purple Cow”, “The Dip:…” , “Meatball Sunday”, “Small Is The New Big”, “Unleashing the Idea Virus” (to name a few) , names that resemble something of a Dr. Seuss Book collection. In all honesty,  I feel like Seth Godin should rock a Cat in the Hat hat at some point. This is the guy who is all over outside of the box. NORMAL?! He pleads, who wants to be normal?! Easily one of favorite presentations, ever.  Something every college student should hear before setting foot into their first lecture.  The hall in the convention center was absolutely packed, and I could see why. He started off the presentation with a picture of flipped bats. Look outside the box, what do hanging bats look like if you flip over the picture? They look like some saucy vampire dance scene set in New York City.

Clearly someone saw something that we didn’t.  Seth Godin’s entire talk was about being different, “show up different, treat different people differently, you will get a different response. He praises people who create Art instead of average stuff, he says from behind his yellow thick rimmed glasses. People want to band together, we are taught from childhood to do what everybody else does, we learn to move with the flow instead of against the grain. To demonstrate this, he displays a list of directions on the screen. To clap slowly, then more quickly , then in unison, and within 9 seconds the entire hall of some 3,000 people is clapping in the same unison. “How do you know at which rhythm to clap to?” he asks. Because we have the ability to organize as a tribe. “Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work,” he says. And humans will organize tribes of weird, or art, or positive things, or people can follow the masses of non-thinkers, they do what they’re told, and always hold a little bit back in case more is asks of them. Are you guilty of this? Or do you give your 100% in everything you do?

Salto Mortale

If you’re not willing to go to an edge, to the thing that will end it all, then how are you different? What makes you different than those who you are reaching out to? People will pay attention to those who do what others will not. Now, there will always be that voice in the back of your head telling you that its dangerous, its not what everyone else is doing, and indeed there is a shortage of people who are willing to resist the masses. But there remains that voice in the back of your head that is telling you to GO! To go DO that thing, whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing. That voice is not wrong! 

SethGodin1Do work that matters and makes a difference, and make your own art. Seth Godin’s wise words have resonated within me since high school, when I learned to embrace my weird. Not because I heard it from Seth, but because I had a few inspirational quirky adults around me growing up. I didn’t quite go at the flow of everybody else, you can ask my Mom, and I’m still not sure why, I really didn’t care what everyone else wore and I certainly did wear and do what I wanted. I looked up some recent TedTalks with Godin, and found a TEDxYouth talk he gave underlining how “we build a system of interchangeable people.” The normal school… the factory of what we call school is responsible for this pressure to want you to be NORMAL!  Concern arises when a child “isn’t quite like the others…” I wish I could have watched it before submitting my thesis, he would have helped me organize my thoughts a bit better, because Seth Godin never fails to present an epically put-together talk. Regardless, I was saying the same thing. So if you can’t read my thesis because you can’t read German… this is what it was saying. And well, Seth says it better anyway.

Seth Godin goes back to the beginning, what is school for? Teaching obedience? You are taught to hold a little bit back. If you give it all at once, your teachers, or boss or someone… will ask for a little bit more! Then though, he offers the solution I couldn’t come up with.

Godin left us with, “I’m not gonna do what I’m told, I’m gonna do what matters.”

So rock that bow-tie and saddle shoes, and go make a ruckus! You Rabble-Rouser, you.

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