WhatIf…You and Your Friends Held a Conference?


Last Saturday, a dozen or so friends gathered at my home for the first edition of what I hope to be a recurring tradition – a sort of mini-conference for the members of a bookless book club I co-founded with Jesse Bridgewater and Chad Carson.  We called the gathering IfCon*, after the sentence prefix we use to inspire conversations at our regular meetings, “What if…”

The format of the conference was simple: every member was invited to give a 20-45 minute talk on a topic of their choice, with the only rule being “don’t be boring.” Ten talks and three meals later, I had learned a lot, laughed a lot, gotten to know them all a bit better, and was not for a single moment bored.

The full agenda is on our website, along with links to videos and slides for those speakers who agreed to have them made public.  To give a taste of what we talked about, here are the titles of the talks:

  • Tomorrow is a new day…what if you really believed it?
  • Video games as a storytelling medium
  • Divine Experience – On the Neural Basis of Revelation
  • The Piraha: A People Without Numbers
  • Life lessons from backgammon
  • An iPhone fit for a Queen: Thoughts on American consumerism from Andy Warhol
  • Longevity, Health, and Happiness : How to Live the SWEET Life
  • A Perspective on Understanding the Arts and Humanities as Demonstrated by Differential Image Analysis Bingo!
  • Reflections on man vs machine and digital vs. analog
  • Environmental, Educational, Health, & Economic Sustainability – Lessons from Cambodia

My talk was about how to live a longer, happier life by tracking the physical, mental, and social aspects of your health on a daily basis.  My friends brought up some interesting questions and challenges to my technique that still have me re-thinking my approach.  Giving the talk was invaluable for me – it’s so hard to challenge your own assumptions, but presenting your ideas to someone you know and trust can teach you a lot about your blind spots!

Aside from the actual content of the talks, one of the most gratifying aspects of the day was that nearly every speaker shared something personal.  Whether it was their love of video games or backgammon, their family trip to Cambodia to visit the schools they helped build, their fascination with language, or their personal trick for starting each day anew, I learned a little more about everyone and connected with them at a deeper level than I had before.  And if you watch my talk (Longevity, Health, and Happiness), you’ll learn how making those kinds of connections is critical to a long, happy life.

What if you and your friends held a conference?

* We subsequently discovered that there is another conference with the name, so we’ll likely change it next time around to avoid confusion.