“What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” This quote by Robert H. Schuller is used often by motivational speakers to inspire people to think differently, to seriously contemplate what actions they would choose if they were assured a different outcome. SOBCon (the Small Online Business Conference) is described as “where virtual meets concrete” and deconstructs this quote by repurposing it, suggesting, “What impossible idea would you attempt if surrounded by people who won’t let you fail?”
When you attempt to parse this question, to define its terms and in doing so create a road map to success, you inevitably come to cost. What would you pay or sacrifice to find a group of people who wouldn’t let you fail? If you have got that supportive network and so much more, how do you then compass the value? It becomes academic whether you are running to take advantage of such an opportunity, or running away with your skepticism, when the cost-benefit analysis writes itself. There is only one impediment to true knowledge—the dissolution of any promising learning environment—and that is sacrificing the potential gain to prevent imagined cost. SOBCon represents a complete answer to that initial question in the form of attendees that will take you to that impossible idea. Suddenly your attempts at impossible ideas have intrinsic value that outweigh every cost.
Wanting to take advantage, I literally ran to this opportunity to experience this inspirational community chock full of ideas; innovation; and most of all, some of the most intelligent people I have ever encountered. I was so inspired, I participated in both SOBCon Chicago in May and SOBCon Northwest (Portland) in September.
The remarkable founders of SOBCon, Liz Strauss and Terry St. Marie (a.k.a., “Starbucker”), have developed a locus of ideals and talent that has not only provided tremendous value as a stand-alone conference, but has created new communities, networks and businesses. The innovations are boosted by a deep feeling of community; by planting a seed when you choose to join the conference, you will not be allowed to fail. SOBCon’s founders and avid attendees have come to live and breathe collaborative entrepreneurism by looking at information and ideas as anchoring one end of a continuum where the opposite end is intelligence and innovation. Conference attendees see these qualities—the “4 I’s”—as interacting with and informing the others, not one acting as a channel or steppingstone to another until such time as your concept could take root and bloom. As Terry likes to point out, “Information gets exchanged through our unique ‘models and masterminds’ approach, where we give the attendees a chance to talk about the grand ideas that are raised by our guest speakers. These ideas typically evolve into innovative visions and strategies that attendees can take with them after the event.”
“When ideas and innovations are supported so strongly at an event like this, it can result in some extraordinary breakthroughs,” Terry is proud to point out. “I've seen several new business partnerships blossom right in the room. I've seen many people who were lost and frustrated find their purpose and their confidence in that room. And yes, I've seen more ‘ah ha!!’ moments than I can count.”
Author, speaker and repeat SOBCon attendee Barry Moltz explains: "When I first sat down at SOBCON, I felt like I had come home. Here were people that would help me get unstuck and finally move forward. "
Liz’s story is one of drive and determination, a seed that has bloomed. An “opportunity creator,” an international business strategist and keynote speaker, she’s been called the most influential “real-ebrity” on the web. From her father’s saloon to years in education (across all age groups: preschool to graduate classrooms in USC and City University London) through the conceptualization and execution of an innovative, strategic relationship model that built an international corporate publishing network on four continents, Liz has gained a deep understanding of influence, human behavior, community, communication and solid business strategy. She is no less effusive than Terry in her unwavering love for SOBCon: “SOBCon is the Cirque du Soleil of business strategy events. It's an interactive think tank that moves ideas to action—packed with business strategies and social media immersion. You will walk away with new ideas and the energy and network to implement them.”
Terry St. Marie has similar drive from a completely different direction. A native Midwesterner now living in Portland, Oregon, Terry has been spreading “realistic optimism” through a philosophy he terms “Half-Fullism.” He moved away from 30 years in the business world (most recently as the senior vice president of operations for Bresnan Communications, a cable TV operator in the Rocky Mountain west) to become a strategist, coach and angel investor. His leadership philosophy is unabashedly personal: It’s all about positivity, purpose, empathy and compassion, humility—and love.
Brick and mortar entrepreneurs, strategists and traditional corporate management may easily dismiss these personalities as unnecessary and outmoded. They believe real business results are based on a single bottom line, not empathy, compassion or unquantifiable qualities. Yet these precise qualities are exactly what drive attendees to SOBCon, from the average Joe to Chris Brogan (www.chrisbrogan.com). And those qualities are exactly what attendees use to thrive.
Two-time SOBCon attendee and author Elizabeth Marshall adds: "SOBCon is so much more than an event—it's a community where rich relationships are made, and conversations turn into meaningful collaborations and tangible business opportunities."
What I experienced at this year’s event did not fail to enlighten me. The theme for Chicago 2012 was Creating and Leveraging Opportunity: Strategy and Execution. Terry and Liz had gathered a panel of luminaries to discuss qualitative and quantitative critical thinking, with a focus on action as opposed to cerebral envisioning. The panel had decided on a menu of topics revolving around the seven keys to strategy and execution: Mission, Vision, Position, Conditions, Decisions, Networks and Systems. Each presentation, model and mastermind session was organized around the guiding tenet that each would change the way you see yourself and your business.
As a connector who has always been able to connect with new people, I clearly found that SOBCon made my strength (confidence in meeting and supporting collaborative goals) available to all attendees and even heightened my own experience of connecting to others. When your goal is elevated access to success, this type of authentic connection secures the path—and with “real-ebrities” in the room, the possibilities are endless!
The dynamic was made even more extraordinary by the elevated level of questioning by both attendees and presenters. People empowered by their surroundings to use their intelligence can always innovate. I was comfortable exchanging ideas and information with industry rock stars such as Tim Sanders, Rick Turoczy, Les McKeown, Katherine Burdick, Carol Roth, Laura Fitton, Rick Calvert, Lisa Horner, Gary W. Goldstein and Chris Brogan by simple virtue of the conference’s air of camaraderie.
The recent event in Portland became a prism through which every attendee’s stories and questions became a guide for the others. Some key points that I took away:
- Don't be afraid to re-evaluate your business model if it's not working.
- When you're telling someone about your business, remember to relate it to what you can do for that person. They want to know "what's in it for me," whether they are a VC, a potential business partner or a potential customer.Your business "pitch" must be practiced, but natural. Convey what you can do for the person you're talking with, very briefly. Have multiple versions of your pitch at the ready, depending on how much time you're given.
- We are all in the content-creation business now, and content going "viral" is the result of convergence of authenticity and surprise. It can't be concocted.
- Leverage large; as a small business, seek out larger partners and opportunities to move "up the chain."
- No matter how far up the chain you climb, you must make room for giving back.
Perhaps most importantly: Surround yourself with people who won't let you fail; find those few key people who are fully invested in what you're doing and will support you.
Rebecca Saltman is a social entrepreneur and the president and founder of an independent collaboration building firm designed to bridge business, government, nonprofits and academia. To learn more, visit www.foot-in-door.com.