Live Notes from World Domination Summit 2015

I spoke last year at The World Domination Summit about Saving Your Creative Soul, and had such an excellent time I decided to return. Like last year I’m posting live summaries of every talk (2014 talk summaries here).

What is WDS? The event was founded and led by legendary man of the world Chris Guillebeau and in his opening comments he explained the goal of the entire enterprise (which is now four years old) is to find answers to this question: How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world? The event tries to answer the questions in different ways and through different activities, but all have three values in play.

  1. Community – connecting with interesting people
  2. Adventure – taking risks and doing new things
  3. Service – making the world a better place

Many of the 2500 attendees are solo entrepreneurs, small business owners, marketers and people with a passion for three goals above. Over 150 people work on putting the WDS event together. Most are volunteers including the core team. And it’s a non commercial gathering – there are no sponsors and nothing is sold other than ideas, and books from speakers.

1. Jon Acuff

He opened with a story about how children have a different perspective, one that can’t always been reconciled with ours. Children can’t understand what Blockbuster video even is. And children today can make mistakes without the world watching. He shaved lines in his eyebrow as a child to look like Vanilla Ice, but no one would remember that now unless he told them. But he remembers how in 3rd grade his teacher posted his poetry on the wall. and he realized for the first time he had a voice.

But he wondered if the the 3rd grade version of himself saw the 36th year old version, what would he ask: “did we become a poet?” And when the 36 year old version told him about what happened, the 3rd grade version would ask “Why did we trade our voice for money?” Which led him to a series of questions and observations:

  • Regret has a much longer shelf life than fear.
  • Will I face the fear of today or the regret of forever?
  • But actually being brave sucks. It feels like you’re going to throw up and you get no sleep.
  • Bravery is a choice, not a feeling. You’ll never feel brave enough to do the things you want to do.
  • “What’s your daydream?” “To be able to daydream again”
  • How do we misplace our voice? We’re too busy.
  • If you stay in motion you don’t have to face things that make you emotional.
  • Sometimes when you get enough money, you abandon your voice (e.g. bloggers chasing traffic)
  • “Can I pay you not to work on things you don’t care about” – yet many “successful” creators end up doing little of the work they set out to do when they started
  • Trying to make everyone like you is the quickest way to hate yourself

Often people fear not being liked and sacrifice their voice for popularity. Not being able to say no is often a sign you want to be liked too much. He said, “”If you tell someone no and they react in anger, they just confirmed you made the right decision”. We often surround ourselves with people who are good at saying no to us, or who poke at our ambitions, unintentionally, in negative ways. “Are you still trying to start a company / write a book  / live your dream?” The word still has surprising judgmental power.

To help him and his fans get back on track and help focus his energy he created dosummer2015 and wrote the book Do Over. Projects he thinks will help you find and develop your voice.

Jon Acuff / @jonacuff

2. Vani Hari (

(Important: This was a difficult talk to watch because of how much she didn’t say about her reputation. Various scientists and medical experts have criticized her not for her health evangelism, but for her specific claims and advice. She made no mention of these experts who have criticized her works on (perhaps) valid grounds, which seemed unfair given her talk portrayed only the most hateful and uninformed kinds of criticism).

4 years ago she had a miserable cubicle job, and was wishing away her time, hoping for the weekend to start. She had no twitter or Facebook account. She was scared to have them or get fired for something she might post. And now there are millions of people on the internet who follow her, and was named one of the most influential people online. She couldn’t imagine then how much would change in just 4 years.

She took on a role as a food activist, having been raised on processed food but wanting to help people to find better ways to be healthy. The surprising popularity of her work surprised her as well as the negative attention she received. She showed a series of slides of hateful Facebook posts, twitter and other social media posts about her, much of it sexist in nature and doxxing. Which is horrible and unjustified for any reason.

The first name for her blog was Eat Healthy and Live Longer blog, which her husband rejected. He came up with, which she thought was a good name but didn’t match how she felt about herself. She was scared to put her photo on the blog. But slowly she gained an audience. And had success influencing many companies, including Kraft and Subway, to change the ingredients in their products.

On 12/21/2012 at Machu Picchu, far away from her job and world, she got a phone call (or email) that her consulting contract had ended. And instead of being upset she decided to make foodbabe her full time career. Her husband told her “what have you been waiting for?” And that set her on the path to writing a popular book and a successful blog.

She believes that:

  • History will resolve itself (meaning, to me, worry about how future generations will judge you)
  • “If you don’t like me and still watch everything I do, bitch you are a fan” – Madonna
  • “It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it, it matters how many people do” – (which might be an unattributed Tim Ferris quote from an article on dealing with haters)

I was frustrated by this talk. The abuse women receive online is real and horrible. But a central part of her story is about dealing not with pure haters, but with professional expert peers who disagree with you professionally. I thought she dodged important things central to her story, including lessons she might have learned, and growth she might have experienced, from her tumultuous experience. Instead her message centered on persistence, but not introspection.

Vani Hari /  @thefoodbabe

3. Pamela Slim

She spoke at the first WDS and is the author of Escape From Cubicle Nation. She observed that it’s easy as an audience to be inspired, but also to feel jealous of all the success stories they hear. What she wanted to do was to provide tools to take action because “she loves us”. One idea she recommends is a native American tradition called the seven births (or breaths? I couldn’t find a reference to this online):

  1. The top of your head. The essence of your soul.
  2. Your breath. Your awareness in every moment of gratitude for life.
  3. Your language. What you speak and your unique voice.
  4. Your heart. The center of emotion and what pumps energy through your body.
  5. Your home. Your physical home and your creative home (or place).
  6. Your tail. When you sit down on the earth and plug in your tail, you can hear all the prayers of all the animals of the earth. (An idea that appears in the film Avatar).
  7. Your walk. Daily steps that allow you to leave a garden of flowers behind you.

For any idea, think about it the context of each birth. When you ask someone what they’re working or trying to do, touch on each of the seven from the list and how they relate to each other.

4. Kid President

Robby Novak and Brad Montague are the child / adult team that makes Kid President, a popular YouTube channel. Brad wanted to shape the way kids see the world, and the world sees kids. Brad  and his wife started a camp for kids and a non-profit, and the videos they made as a family connected with people who were not in their family. Brad explained “We make videos about things we think kids need to know and we have fun doing it.”

They offered many aphorisms based on their show:

  • It’s everybody’s duty to give everyone a reason to dance. (and they had the audience stand up and do “the whip”).
  • If you want to be awesome, the secret is to treat people awesome.
  • Be cute, be funny, be good. (Robby’s advice to Brad before he walked off stage)
  • Treat everybody like it’s their birthday.
  • There are many reasons to complain and many reasons to dance. Choose to dance.

Things we learned as kids that could help us be better grown ups:

  1. Be Nice
    • Treat everybody like it’s their birthday
    • This is a joyful rebellion. Most rebellions are angry, but not ours. We’re filled with a joyfull vision of how things could be.
    • Haters gonna hate, huggers gonna hug.
    • Nearly 3 billion people are under 30 today (we have a world of kids)
  2. You matter
    1. “You are being uniquely prepared for something magical”
  3. Sharing is good – not just content, but opportunities.
    • They’ve invited fans of their show to send in videos of them dancing, laughing and surprising friends with corn dogs (“Here! I am surprising you with a corn dog because you are my friend.”)
    • A fun way for everyone to help homeless people in October.
  4. Take a chance with what you have.
    • They made a video of Kid pretending to talk to Beyonce with chicken nuggets. They sent it to her through her website, asking to interview her. She said Yes. The United Nations asked them how they managed to get in touch with her, surprised that Robby and Brad didn’t use an inside connection,
    • Ordinary things can become extraordinary when they’re used with love.

When asked by the audience what he wanted to do when he was an adult, Robby answered “When I’m an adult, I want to be a kid. like Brad”.

Kid President / @iamkidpresident

 5. Lewis Howes

Lewis Howes hosts the School of Greatness podcast and is a former pro athlete. He grew up into a man thinking of himself as Captain America, a superhero. But years ago he got into a fight, and was surprised by a headbutt from his opponent. It stunned him, and in the emotional state he was in, something unexpected came out. He didn’t know how to take it in his heart, so he responded with strength, and something deep in him came out and beat the other man close to death. After the fight, he stared at himself in the mirror and asked the question: Who Are You? He was ashamed of himself for what he had done.

Universal Myths Men (and perhaps all people) learn:

  • You don’t get rewarded for being compassionated
  • You get rewarded for breaking your arm and playing anyway
  • You don’t get rewarded for saying nice things
  • Taking control, winning the game and doing whatever it takes
  • This is what most men (and sometimes women) where taught

When he was 8 years old his older brother, his hero, was sent to prison for selling drugs when he was 19. Growing up in middle class Ohio Lewis had never known anyone who went to jail. It was a challenge for him in many ways. He remembers visiting his brother in prison, someone who he had looked up to: it was hard for both of them. And he remembers the day when his brother was released and how the family celebrated. But in the photo of that day, he doesn’t look happy. There was a self image of portraying masculinity he felt he needed to project (Universal Myths).

That night he heard his brother crying. Like a wolf who had lost his pack. But it was really a cry of freedom, and he cried with his family too, sharing relief from the burden of him being away. But Lewis didn’t cry, feeling he had to be the man of the house. (They had an exchange student from Japan who, had only been with them for two weeks, who was baffled by what she observed).

Lewis wanted to go away to school, as his parents often fought. They sent him to boarding school, and soon after they got divorced. But their inability to be emotionally stable affected him.

Months after the fight he still wasn’t himself, and he took a workshop on expressing emotions. And there was an exercise when anyone could share something they’d never shared before. And to his own surprise he felt his heart racing. And he stood up and told a story of being raped by a male babysitter when he was 5. He’d never told anyone before and 25 years of emotion came out of him. But he was terrified of his image and how they would judge him. He remembers crying uncontrollably, feeling he’d ruined his life and would never be loved again. And to his surprise he was embraced by many friends who told him they loved him, and thanking him for sharing and for leading the way (1 in 6 men have been sexually abused, but few ever speak of it).

He asked his brother “Is there anything I could ever do that would make you not love me? “And he said “there’s nothing”. And he told him his story of being abused and his brother was incredibly supportive. And he went to each of his family members and had similar experiences. By not guarding himself, but opening up he created, to his surprise, more connection with people that he thought was possible. He kept sharing it to friends, aware that it was controlling him and owning him, rather than the other way around.

A year ago, after great fear about how it would damage his reputation, he told the story on his podcast. That night, after he hit publish, he went out his window and saw the supermoon, a memory he’ll never forget.

He asked the audience to think about what secret they’re afraid to tell others. What is holding you back? In your family? Your relationship? Yourself? We strive to be the King of Diamonds, but the most successful people become the King of Hearts.

  1. Will you take off the mask of masculinity?
  2. Are you ready to join me in becoming superhuman?

Lewis Howes / @lewishowes

5. Megan Divine

[This talk was done so well, so gently and yet so powerfully, it was easily my favorite, and hardest, talk of the day. And to anyone who came to my session on platitudes, I don’t think she used a single one]

Bazu is a child who was 5 years old, and had cancer for 3. The photo Megan showed of him was taken on a rare day when he was allowed outside (rare because his immune system was so weak). She’d known her mother Ellie, seen in the photo, but only online, and Megan had social anxiety about meeting her in person for the first time. She thought at first to just look for Bazu, but then she remembered that Bazu is dead. And had died 6 years ago. Many of the people she knows she only knows because someone has died.

Megan’s partner died a few years ago. She tells a story of her husband, Matt, stopping on a walk by the side of a river to notice whirlpools. They sat down to take a swim and threw the ball for the dog, who ran off, distracting Megan. And from behind her she heard Matt cough, but didn’t turn around. She didn’t turn until he called out her name, and then called out for help. The strong current had carried him out into the water. And he was taken away. She ran in after him, and the dog followed, thinking it was a game. Megan and her dog were carried two miles down the river before being put back to shore. It was 3 hours of rescue divers and search teams until they found Matt’s body a few feet away from where he’d disappeared.

What do you do with someone like me? She asked. Someone like Ellie? We’re all trained to look for happy endings. Our cultural stories are of redemotion and transformation. Things always work out. There is always a happy ending. So what do you do when the possibility for a happy ending explodes into a thousand bits? And pain that never goes away? She didn’t know how to do this. She went looking for stories of people living lost.

She explained that even medically, among doctors, we call grief a disorder. It wasn’t just books and experts that shared this view, but the wider community, and even the therapists. They needed her to be ok because pain like hers is hard to witness. We don’t have stories for how to bear witness. We’re overwhelmed by things that have no easy solution, or no solution at all.

We need new stories. To weave a culture strong enough to not fix was isn’t broken. When you hear the pain in the world it’s not a call to make it go away. It’s a call to love. A call to courage. Pain deserves acknowledgement not repair. The path of bearing witness is the true path of love.

There are things that can’t be fixed and that’s ok. We can love each other in the middle of deep adversity. It’s at the moment when you flinch that’s when you are most called to love. Witnessing is an act of bravery. It’s an act of risk. Hearing someone’s pain and letting them have it is an amazing gift.

Things you can do:

  • Notice the impulse to help.
  • Pause: what response is called for?
  • Don’t fix: Don’t fix anything. Not fixing pain is a radical act.
  • Bear witness. Stay present and make space for things to be as bad as they need to be.

It’s been 6 years since her husband died. She explained that we can’t fix her. And no message she can give us exists that would be fair trade for the loss of his life. The redemptive storyline does not apply to her. She offered that WDS asks how to live a remarkable life in a conventional world, and one way to do that is to practice love in a world where terrible things can happen, to love fiercely and intelligently in a world where children die and loved ones can be swept away. She believes we can.

Megan Divine / @refugeingrief

[I couldn’t stay for Day 2, so the above notes are from Day 1 only]

21 Responses to “Live Notes from World Domination Summit 2015”

  1. Gina

    I think it’s a bit early to expect introspection from Vani. That speech is about 5 years off. I found it interesting that someone who has been the target of so much misogyny is inspired by misogynistic hip hop artists. In the same way that hip hop artists rely on pseudo-masculine bravado, she’s clinging to perseverance as the life lesson. She sounded as if she’s still dealing with the trauma of the attacks. She should probably expand on the middle part of her presentation about Chipotle and Chick-Fil-A.

    1. windsun33

      The thing is, Vani focuses on and points out (with great vigor) the hate posts. But the fact is those are a very tiny percentage of all the posts to and about her. And of those, an even tinier percentage has anything to do with her being female. I have been following her antics for over two years now, and the biggest mystery to me is how she got so many followers given all the bad science and bad advice she has given out.

      And she is somewhat of a hypocrite about the whole misogyny thing also – I have seen fan posts on her blog about how “hot” or “sexy” she is, even the usual “wouldn’t kick her out of bed” type comments stay up for weeks. But any posts at all that question her views, “science”, or supposed facts are deleted and the poster almost instantly banned. She has gotten so famous for banning people one her Facebooks and Twitter pages that there is even a Facebook group called “banned by Food Babe” with thousands of members.

      What she has totally failed to do – and judging by a partial transcript of her talk – still fails to do is ever acknowledge that any of her dissenters might actually have a point – instead of engaging, she has just fortified the trenches and retreat deeper into her mantra of “chemicals are bad”. She has almost zero actual nutritional, science, or medical background or training, yet she absolutely refuses to let any new facts enter her realm. And that is her real problem – not some tiny smattering of hate posts.

      1. tew

        She knows how to play the game. She’s very in tune with the current fashion of “shutting people down” who say things you don’t like, so her fans are probably accustomed to seeing inconvenient and uncomfortable facts and analysis dismissed with claims of victimhood. These are the kind of people who lash out at people when confronted with facts. So shouting “misogyny” and constantly highlighting a small number of troll posts is a way to deflect valid criticism, so that her fans see her as a victim and all critics as bad.

      2. Nancy

        I think I’m just confused as to why this speaker was at an event like WDS

      3. Mike

        To add on to your post there and how she focuses on the small % of completely inappropriate messages vs. the messages that criticize her message and tactics here is a good article on it (I know SciBabe did one as well but I can’t find it ):

        Kavin Senapathy:

        P.S. Scott I saw you talk at GIANT about a month ago, sorry we didn’t get a chance to chat improv and how it related to your talk etc.

        1. tew

          Thanks for sharing that link to Kavin Senapathy’s post. Her post was well-written, reasonable, and on point.

          However, I would say that portions of Senapathy’s response show the damage folks like Food Babe have already done to rational, scientific analysis based on facts and reason. What do I mean? Well, Senapathy feels compelled to highlight on multiple occasions that she is, well, a “she”, and that she is a feminist and non-white. In other words, she has to project the *personal* onto the professional, because Food Babe uses claims of misogyny to ridicule, cast doubt upon, and “shut down” those who use science and sturdy analysis to criticize her. Senapathy seems to know that without a female, feminist, non-white cloak, her message will be easily dismissed or attacked – labeled as “misogynist”, or worse, openly and hostilely demonized as having an nefarious agenda.

          The Food Babes of the world are winning in their fight against Enlightened thinking, civil debate, reason, and science. When, in order to be heard, someone feels compelled to highlight aspects of his/her personal identity about a topic completely unrelated to that identity, it is damaging.

  2. Kristoffer Carter

    Amazing recap Scott, love all the detail. I forgot my notebook on Day 1 but you got my back! :)

    Agree with much of your commentary. Felt that Food Babe’s stuff got too dark and wasn’t grounded in her (tremendous, quick) impact. All in all a good job though.

    Thought Jon’s was the best of the Day. Brad from Kid President was amazing too. Just genuine, and well articulated.

    Lewis Howes, for as much as I like the guy and admire his accomplishments, missed a big opportunity in his talk on masculinity. He just seemed to enjoy the meatheaded beatdown of his basketball opponent too much in my opinion, as well as constantly calling himself captain america. Came off like posturing versus introspection. Enjoyed parts of it, but it left me feeling like it had nothing to do with the audience.

    Keep them coming! Great summaries.

  3. Julie

    Overall – I enjoyed all of the talks – and Jon (hilarious) and Kid President were my faves. However, I really (regretfully) disagree that Megan’s talk was a favorite. I feel her sadness and wanted to learn more from what she had to say. But – I left her talk feeling super depressed and not even sure what the lesson was. To leave people alone who are in pain? It was confusing to me.

    I also disagree that Vani didn’t discuss “professional” criticisms of her work during her talk. Didn’t she talk about being criticized for not having a nutrition degree and has since created a science advisory board that reviews her work? She said this when discussing “thoughtful” critics. I’m in the health and nutrition field, and my take is that many of the “professional expert” criticisms that she receives are from scientists that have ties to the chemical or pesticide companies (that obviously don’t like her work), and written by journalists that always write favorably for these industries. It takes a bit of digging, but it’s not as black and white as it may appear on her wikipedia page that you linked to there. I felt like this talk was helpful to those of us who have our own “haters” and how to deal with it.

    Thanks for your summaries! Adding to my notes. :)

    1. Michelle

      As one of Vani Hari’s professional critics who has no ties to the food or pesticide industry and who is not a journalist, I’m frustrated by the notion that any critique is motivated by personal motives.

    2. windsun33

      To say that much of her criticism comes from what you basically claim are shills is not correct. She has made many – possibly hundreds – of outright false statements that are just factually wrong. Many of her claims are not just debunked by “opposing factions”, but by basic science. She constantly gets chemicals and chemical names confused, and often conflates similar sounding ingredients – because she simply has zero understanding of the actual science.

    3. tew

      Re: “…she talk about being criticized for not having a nutrition degree…”

      See that for what it is: A deflection. She is not addressing criticism of her statements and claims. Instead, she is manipulating the audience to focus only on a narrow type of criticism, namely that of her background (subject matter authority).

      The important criticisms and refutations of her statements are not based on her (lack of) academic credentials, but on those statements being either demonstrably false or not having a defensible scientific basis. (*)

      (She also knows that most of her followers are skeptical of established authorities in the areas she discusses, so even in “addressing” that criticism she positions herself as a victim.)

      * At this point you can cue the fallacies and conspiracy theories at this point: “But science doesn’t know everything, so how can you know it’s not true”, “Well, it works for me”, “But those studies are all controlled by Big ; X = {Ag, Pharma, Food, Energy, etc.}

  4. Peyton

    Thanks for sharing. Had no idea FoodBabe was so controversial. I thought she was about food, not reputation management tips. I had missed her speech. Makes me wonder.

    1. tew

      It’s all about the meta.

      In many cases today it’s not the subject matter, but the position of the celebrity. For example, let’s say you want to make some money in the “modern fears” space. You might choose cancer and create a diet or special “detox” or a method for customizing lifestyle, etc. etc. and then sell into the cancer fear space. Or maybe a “hope” space where you find a common weakness and then build a brand around creating hope around that weakness. Maybe become the recognized figure in an anti body shaming campaign you create and then move on to be the voice of positive body identity for a sub-group, taking their perceived weakness or flaw and making them feel good and hopeful.

      So reputation management is key. You can do all the social marketing and TV spots you want, but if you lose your reputation within your space, the cash spigot turns off.

    2. windsun33

      Yes, she is that controversial, and more. It is not that she sells useless, overhyped, or woo-riffic products on the internet. It is the methods she uses. She lacks any actual science, nutritional, medical, or agriculture background, yet she continually gives (very bad) advice on those topics. She has been proven wrong on many of her claims many times, but to my knowledge she has never backed down from a false statement. (one exception might be where she claimed that airlines were cheating because passengers were getting air that was “only” 50% Oxygen. She finally removed that post).

  5. Sean Crawford

    Hi Scott,
    In case people are excited by the summit and want to attend a conference themselves:
    I just thought I’d tell your readers that you did an essay on How to Get the Most Out of Conferences.

    I myself will be attending a nonprofit readers/writers/publishers conference in mid-August, one that I’ve been excited about all year.

  6. Michael Metcalf

    Thanks for this, Scott.

    One thing I’d like to add, about Vani, is that she’s another example of a series of popular bloggers who quit their jobs to run a personality-based business. I see this story all the time, and there’s something I’ve started to notice: the ones who romanticize most the ideal of quitting everything to follow their passion so often come from six-figure jobs. Management consultants, lawyers, bankers, whatever.

    What about those of us who earn just enough to pay the rent, and don’t have a supportive, breadwinning spouse to lean on, and a well-stuffed savings account? I wish we heard more stories from this side of things.

    1. tew


      Yes, it’s annoying and can be discouraging hearing from people from advantaged situations proclaim their sacrifice in doing something that most people would love to do.

      The the problem with her and others like her is that they are mostly charlatans making money off of the gullible or troubled. Science and rational problem solving techniques are hard to learn, but once they’re practiced enough, they become fun and seeing these false prophets for what they are becomes second nature. The ironic thing is that being scientifically literate and rational actually allows one more room for dreaming and more time to consider the wonders of the universe, because you’re not trapped in another person’s self-serving dogma that is at odds with reason and systematic observation.

      We all have hopes and fears. There’s no reason to be exploited in addressing either.

  7. Gabriel

    popular bloggers who quit their jobs to run a personality-based business.

  8. mary

    Thanks for sharing. Had no idea FoodBabe was so controversial.



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