How do you get 3,000 of the world’s most prominent thought and industry leaders to talk to each other face to face? Simple: put them on a boat and ship them off to international waters, far away from any wifi or cell phone signals.
Last Summer, my team and I won the Wildfire Accelerator Pitch Competition special category. The prize was an exclusive invitation for me to join “Summit at Sea”, a 3 day trip on a chartered cruise ship with a lineup that would scare the WEF in Davos. When I first got the brief, it was hard for me to imagine what this was going to be like. Sitting on a boat for 3 days? Going from talks with Eric Schmidt to apnoe-diving and breathing exercises with “The Iceman” Wim Hof? And then there was the “content.” Trojan Horses? Superhumanification? Origins?
How did this all fit together?
At least one of the topics I was familiar with: Black Turtlenecks and Garages. Or so I thought…
Obviously, I tried to figure out ahead of time what I was getting into, but there wasn’t much information available online. A few pictures of people boarding a cruise ship, a short video and some very vague articles describing an unparalleled experience. Summit’s website showed lots of ocean imagery, some people you would read about in the New York Times, and others I had never heard of.
So, on Tuesday, November 8th, I packed my bags and hopped on a plane to Miami to board a cruise ship the next morning (something I never ever imagined myself doing). When I walked on that boat – aptly named “Norwegian Escape,” I left a world behind that I would never see the same way again.
For the next 3 days, I slept an average of 1-2 hours per day, if at all. The boat was awake 24/7 and time did not matter. Every hour was packed with talks by people such as John Sculley, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Hawk. I listened to a North Korean refugee tell her story about escaping the regime while a 20-something was sitting next to her talking about his experience setting up a startup incubator in Pyongyang. After listening to Christopher Ryan’s fascinating account of primate sexuality and its impact on human evolution, I discussed producing music with a Norwegian DJ and learned about the World Expo’s plans for the future. While the results of the election were officially confirmed in one part of the world, Dolores Huerta and Sonia Sanchez were talking about fighting for women’s rights in the 80’s and embracing love, peace and understanding to make a difference in the world. As Summit founder Jeff Rosenthal puts it: “The more diverse the inputs, the more complex the output.”
Although the talks and panels were a major part of the program, I quickly realized that you really got to know and meet people once you ventured outside the schedule: Discuss nutrition with an MIT scientist building micro-farms for the future? Sure, just head up to the deck and check out his plants. Meet VC’s and entrepreneurs while sipping on cocktails and discussing leadership techniques? Just go to the pool. Discuss the future of AR and VR with chief engineers from Oculus and HoloLens – that’s what the Whiskey bar is for. And if that wasn’t enough, dinners were again a time to meet new people and make connections, like the New York Jazz band who put on a jam session for all the people at the table after we finished dessert.
Everyone was trying to maximize their time spent on the boat by talking and meeting new people, exchanging ideas and finding ways to solve problems. And everyone was doing that with an incredible openness to connect and talk. Even in the elevators – which is usually a place for awkward looks and silence!
Looking back, I now understand why there isn’t much info about Summit available online. Summit at Sea is so immersive and captivating that no 2D screen or text could ever capture fully what it means. And so, from the moment you board the ship onwards, you basically enter a contract to be present in person, not via email or text. Instead of pointing eyes to screens and words to phones, people pointed eyes to faces and words to each other. At least for 3 days.
The crowd on the cruiseship was the most diverse group of people that I have ever met and I cherish every second that I was able to spend with them. Thank you to The Garage for providing me with this incredible opportunity and thank you to the Summit Team for putting on what was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever been through. It changed my perspective on the world.
Marc Gyongyosi is the Founder and CEO of IFM (Intelligent Flying Machines), a current student at Northwestern, and a Resident of The Garage.