Return to Neverland (complete)

Here are some thoughts and musings about this year’s experiences at the 2013 Let’s Do it! World Brainstorm and Conference in Tallinn and Pädaste…


I boarded the flight to Tallinn on 28 JAN 2013 hoping we would fly past the second star to the right and straight on until morning and without any pixie dust, the plane would bring me back to Neverland.  This year, there was the added excitement of participating in the LDI Brainstorm, an event advertised as the place where the eco-groovy movers and shakers of the world would meet the President of Estonia, then isolate themselves on a remote island to set the agenda for the next 1000 days in which we would usher in a clean, waste-free world.  I may not have had any pixie-dust, but I can certainly say that I had butterflies in my stomach.

If it were only that simple…

To make sense of the Peter Pan reference, we must rewind the tape back almost exactly one year to the LDI World Cleanup Conference of 2012.  When describing that experience, I could not help but invoke references to LSD.


Any curious mind will inevitably run up against the existential issues: the existence of God, of the soul, of creation, of spirituality… the list goes on.  And in the search for answers the exposure to different concepts of the soul and of the origin of living things is also inevitable.  One of those concepts says that we all are connected because we are all part of ‘the one’, so it is impossible for us NOT to be connected.  Although this is a concept that one can process and accept intellectually, it is nearly impossible to actually FEEL it. To KNOW it firsthand is difficult for us mere mortals.  We all have our insulation and our barriers.  We can’t remember our lives before the age of 3, so those of us who are not saints, those of us who are not enlightened have never really known life without them.

And then there is LSD.

When one drinks alcohol, smokes ganja, cigarettes, or flirts with any number of chemical diversions, one is aware of a chemically-induced change of the senses.  But, there is not really a change in perception.  There is no real change in the fabric of the connection between humans.  All the barriers are in place, but they simply have different flavors and colors.  LSD is different.  It removes all those filters / barriers / isolators that form the layer between us and that seemingly mythical world where we are all connected.  During the trip one realizes that this world really exists.  It is not, in fact, another mythical world.  It is OUR world.  And thus, it is unfortunate that the experience is called a “trip” because it isn’t really a trip.  It’s just the same place without the barriers.  These barriers are of our own creation.  The real world in its most natural state is one in which we are all connected.  It is the constructs we manufacture that make us feel alone & separated from each other.  Another remarkable phenomenon of the LSD experience is its ability to act like a contagion.  It is a beautiful domino-effect were humans are the dominos.  I witnessed firsthand how the absence of barriers in one person dissolves the barriers in the people she / he interacts with.  Regardless of their state of chemical “enhancement”, people simply drop their barriers.  It was as if it is the secret code to a sacred vault.  Defense shields & force-fields simply vanished.

The acid eventually wears off and constructs return.  Even though one now has the benefit of both the original intellectual acceptance of the concept AND the direct experience that it exists, it is still very difficult to leave out those insulation barriers once returning to the chemical-free state.  It takes conscious effort to deconstruct the barriers and to remain open.  Time passes.  Such as it is with life in the 21st century, one much endure extremely busy periods.  To get through it, many of us neglect ourselves.  We do not take the time to zoom out, chill out, and maintain perspective.  After a while, that state of universal connection can seem SO far away that we start to wonder if it ever really happened at all.  Then the internal conversation starts, “But I just KNOW it is real.  I was there.  I LIVED it!  I was there once, so I must be able to find my way back.”  As the days pass, the journey back becomes longer and harder.  After a while, it seems like it was Neverland, the dreamland from the story Peter Pan where nobody ages.

The experience at the 2012 conference was very much like a trip to Neverland in two respects:

1)      There were so many people there who are aware; not necessarily enlightened, but aware.  SO many of the people there had little to no barriers.  And as described above, the absence of barriers in one person dissolves those in the people around her/him.  People connected quickly and warmly.  That was beautiful.  This led to the constructive atmosphere and the lightning speed with which people could create ideas, plans, and make decisions.  I wished that business meetings in my working life could run like this.

2)      The return to everyday life made the contrast even stronger.  Days passed and the distance highlighted just how blaringly different (worse, to be honest) life and business runs with closed, shielded, unaware people.  Every time things got petty and unreasonable, I wished I could have imported that vibe & the magic from the conference.  I wished I could have waved a magic wand with one sparkly ZING!, deactivated the force-fields of the .  As the days went on, I started to wonder if it was even real.  I wondered if these crazy Estonians put something in the water and had us under a spell.  Again, that same internal conversation happened, “No way.  It DID happen.  I saw it.  I heard it.  I was there.  These people WERE emotionally connected.  ME included.  How do I get back that state?”  (Of openness, constructiveness, etc)

Now fast-forward to January 28, 2013…

There I was in a big aluminum cigar on a runway at Frankfurt airport. I was prepared for The Brainstorm. I had done my homework.  I have developed my version of the keys to success. I knew what I wanted to say and had boiled the key points down to soundbites. But I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was wondering if I would somehow get back to NEVERLAND.

I may have been born in the dark, but it wasn’t yesterday. Life experience has proven over and over that one can never go back.  So, I engaged in an exercise of reducing my expectations. First of all, the job of convincing people to clean up the world makes one weary. Cleaning up the world as an abstract concept is agreeable to everybody. 100% of them. Getting a commitment for concrete action is NOT agreeable to everybody. Time is the most precious resource for any human who has accepted his own mortality. Even those who do not realize that their time is gold, guard it as such.  One can expect many more rejections than approvals.

I expected that there would be many people there who had never run a cleanup.  They would arrive to inject their “peaks of enthusiasm” as Kadi Kenk labeled it during one of her moments of eloquence at one of the brainstorm sessions on Pädaste.  Alan Greenspan’s term for a related phenomenon was “irrational exuberance”.  Given that 96 countries had run cleanups in 2012, I also expected many veterans to be there.  In my mind, I even started to call them “war-torn veterans”.  I expected that they would arrive with their exuberance for the cause and thus their seemingly infinite capacity for selfless service, but this time, their energy would be tempered with a certain weariness. In some cases, it would be the serenity of the veteran who had found peace by converting to the religion of pragmatism in which there is no good or evil, just that which works and that which does not work. In any case, I knew I could not stomach being disappointed, so I forced myself into the shoes of the pragmatist.

Now fast-forward to the evening of Monday, 04 FEB.

An entire day of work back in the real world was behind me; a very busy day, in fact.  The adrenaline-cortisol cocktail was wearing off.  Quite a strong cocktail, this one.  It had taken nearly 24 hours to wear off!  The cocktail had been masking an annoying cold which had bitten a few people at the conference and now it was trying to knock me out.  It had been 6 nights in a row of 5 hours of sleep per night (or less).  This kind of pace is guaranteed to take its toll on a mere mortal, and it did.

Where had I been? Had I been to Neverland? And if not, where had I really been?

By Friday of this week, I had processed the cold and there was a break in the action of real life. It allowed me to come up for air and reflect a bit. The impressions of the week prior started to gel. I was not drunk the whole time, so I could not claim that the whole week was a blur.  But, as with most things, while you are in the thick of it, it is hard, if not impossible, to zoom out far enough to gain perspective on it.  The blurring effect comes not from having warped perceptions at the time, but rather from having a less than expansive vantage point.  It’s hard to gain the higher ground.  The act of gaining a larger field of view, requires either distance or different lens.  (or both)  Distance always comes with time. But, it is a special thing when a different lens comes into play. I can safely say that I had both.  The distance in vantage point came with the distance in time.  And the experience in Estonia gave me a new lens. (again)  (Besides something unique and beautiful to shoot, that is one of the greatest gifts one can give a photographer.)

STOP.  REWIND to time-stamp 29 JAN 2013… ZZZZZIP…

I have walked past The White House and 10 Downing Street many times.  I have even walked through The Kremlin.  But, I have never ever been inside the house of the leader of a nation. Thus, the evening of 29 JAN at the house of the President of Estonia was a first.  I love firsts.  And LOVE is a big word.  I had already done my homework on President Ilves and in doing so, found out that he lived in New Jersey for 2 years just a few minutes away from where my sister lives now.  That’s all I needed to read.  Anybody who has actually lived in “Joysey”, home of Einstein, Edison, Springsteen, and Sinatra (and my sister) gets a free pass.  I’m sure the Estonians are delighted to hear that their leader has been vetted according to the New Jersey protocol.

It is now 7 weeks after the Presidential reception and my impressions from the experience there have not changed.  It was truly impressive to see firsthand that LDI not only has visibility all the way to the top, but also has open, vocal support from the President.   (and has had it since the very beginning!)  President Ilves did not hedge his bets in his language about LDI as most politicians would.  He made clear statements.

After the reception, we boarded the bus and headed off to the ferry port on the coast and then on to Pädaste Manor on the island of Muhu.  Estonia is definitely THE most “wired” country I have visited in the past 5 years.  There was WiFi on the bus!  There was WiFi on the ferry.  There was WiFi in all 3 hotels I stayed in.  There was WiFi in the cafés and restaurants.  BFD, right?  (big f-ing deal)  There is WiFi in other countries too.  True, but not FREE, hassle-free WiFi.  No logon headaches.  No annoying codes or passwords needed.  Even though we are already >5 years into the age of the iPhone and >10 years into the age of the SmartPhone, many places, hotels, restaurants, etc, have not “arrived”.  They simply do not get it.  Nobody wants to deal with passwords and codes, especially not the omni-connected, digerati world travelers.  They just want instant access to the high-bandwidth data pipe.  In 10 years, the Estonians will look back at this advanced, precocious even, level of connectivity as being one of the lubricants that allowed them to innovate faster than the rest of the world.

I recognized one of the women on the bus as the one from the video sent over from California during the 2012 conference in which they inducted us in to the Blue Marble Game and set the scene for the delivery of the blue marbles.  I asked Sarah if she had ever heard any feedback about that event.  It was hard to believe given the impact that it had, but she said she had not.  So, I told her there was barely a dry eye in the room.  Even macho man me got all misty-eyed.  Little did I know just how much we would hear from Sarah Kornfeld over the next few days.

Even though the Brainstorm was not to begin until morning, it still felt like the moments just before a game or a concert.  The feeling transported me back in time to the band years and even further back to the college and high school basketball years. The words “start” and “begin” and “opening” fall terribly flat considering the hyperaware, pre-performance I was in.  I thought the agenda should have stated something like:

  • 8:00       breakfast
  • 8:30       “tip-off” or “face-off” or “house-lights down”

This feeling always makes the minutes preceding the tip-off of a basketball game or the downbeat of the first song of a concert seem like an eternity.  It is agonizing.  You just can’t wait for that first moment to spark the engine and get the damn thing roaring.

Little did I know… it would be a long wait.

Thanks to the stunningly gorgeous and cozy surroundings at Padäste Manor, I managed to get some sleep.      The next morning, after making a mental note to be sure to return to the island in the summer, I forced down some breakfast and headed through the snow over to the carriage house where the brainstorm was to take place.  We were finally there.  Game time!  My stomach was in knots and I could barely sit still.

It would stay in knots for the rest of the day and through the evening.

Why?  Because we never really got started.  We could agree on the what we want as an abstract vision: “We want a clean world.”  But, we could not define what that means.  We could not turn that into something concrete and measureable. If there were 40 people in the room, there would have been 40 different answers.  In order to come up with a 1000-day plan to clean the world, it helps to know what the desired state of the world should be at the end of the 1000 days.  Thus, I asked the question, “What needs to happen in order for us to declare VICTORY?”  We could not answer that question other than to refer back to the ultimate vision of a clean planet.

The style of the facilitators selected for this über-daunting job of guiding a large group to a useful outcome matched the style of the overall vibe of the 2012 LDI conference… very earthy and eco- / organo-groovy. As I mentioned earlier, there was a high concentration of highly “aware” people at the 2012 conference.  Lots of yoga types.  And this was only reinforced by the fact that the breaks were led by a yoga instructor.  The average age there was probably under 30 and not many of the people had experience in corporate boardrooms or in the military.  There was a general allergy to structure and hierarchy.

That was then.  This is now.  I use the word über-daunting not just because the prefix “mega” has been beaten to death and the prefixes which would raise the intensity 3 and 6 orders of magnitude would sound funny, I use it because the job of getting an outcome out of ANY large group is daunting.  Now throw 2 more important things in to the mix:

  1. the task.
  2. the personality mix.

The difficulty of the task is clear.  No need to elaborate on that.

The mix of personalities of the people in the Padäste carriage house was quite different from the mix at the 2012 conference.  There were MANY type-A personalities.  Many people who had founded and run companies.  There were many people who hold tremendous responsibilities.  This is not to say that they are LESS aware or self-aware than the people at the 2012 conference.  This is not true at all.  I’d be so bold as to say that 90% of the people in the room possessed a high-level of awareness both of their place in the grand scheme of things as well as of themselves.  (They have passed the evolutionary adolescence as Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris put it)  The big difference was in the level of patience with the spiritual approach.  One can do only so much navel-gazing and then it’s time to get s**t done.  Action. Action. Action.  It’s not that any of them are in love with discipline and structure at all.  They are just tools like any other tool.  They are a means to an end, not the end itself.  In this respect, I’d say that the people in the room were more open to different styles than the facilitators.  They were not allergic to structure.

By the end of the day, the tension was at a boiling point.  I took to pacing.  I oscillated between the walls at the far end of the room.  I was a tiger in a cage.  As the game / concert had yet to start, my stomach was still in knots.  If something didn’t happen soon, I thought I would have to burst.  (or refrain from eating so that I would not puke.)  In acts of self-preservation, I did the best I could to zoom out to the satellite view while doing some breathing exercises I learned in Tae Kwon Do school.  Perspective and the breath… the path to calm.

It worked.  I noticed a very important characteristic of the group.  Though not everybody was 100% constructive 100% of the time, nobody was cynical.  Nothing poisons a mission like a few micrograms of cynicism.  The attitude was more like, “After coming all this way and spending all this time and money, I’ll be damned if I am going to leave empty-handed.  We MUST produce SOMETHING!”  I predicted that most of the people in the room would return the next day.

The discussions over drinks and dinner were all about how to jumpstart this car.  How could we get something done in 24 hours that nobody has been able to do in the 200 years of the age of industry?

Some thought through the night.  Some worked through the night.  The lights in the carriage house were on until the wee hours of the morning.  The next morning, the game finally started.  As predicted.  Nearly everybody returned.  I can remember only one casualty of attrition, the guy who ran the packaging plant.  I asked around, but nobody knew why he did not return.  The day was constructive.  Everybody was both engaged and engaging.  We produced ideas and plans and next steps.

Was the output a real 1000-day plan?  Unfortunately not.  Was the task impossible from the start?  No. Just bloody difficult.  I am sure it will be completed soon, though.

Why could the output not be considered a real plan?  Well, that’s a long discussion and I’ve barely had the time to write what I’ve written up to this point.  (Nearly 2 months have passed since the Brainstorm!)  I’ll just illuminate one angle of it.  The official “output” of the brainstorm group was supposed to be 5 concrete next steps.  All of them were Marketing / PR initiatives. Why weren’t there any other levels to this output?  That is the direct result of the ‘open space’ format used in the sessions.  The big group divides in to smaller groups.  The smaller groups produce plans and present them to the big group.  Then everybody votes.  The top vote-getters win.  It is a popularity contest.  The “winningness” depends partly on the content and heavily on the packaging.  Weak ideas presented well have a chance of winning.  Great ideas presented poorly are doomed.  PR gags are very sexy.  They resonate with the soul or the sense of humor.  Subjects like legislation put most people to sleep or at least bring negative feelings as soon as people make the associations with politicians and the political process.  Though such initiatives may be absolutely necessary for the long term success of a movement, they will NEVER survive the open-space process.

So, in the end we produced 5 marketing ideas.  They are actually excellent ideas.  And if implemented, they will have an effect.  They are tailor made to be copied and spread virally.  (this was one of the requirements for all initiatives… they all needed to be scalable.  If they could not be copied virally, they did not make it through the filter)

Now fast-forward through the gorgeous ride through the ice back to the mainland and to the conference…

As should be the case in a growing movement, there were many new faces. It was as encouraging and inspiring to see them as it was comforting to see the old faces.  { “Old” !  Isn’t that awful?!  I’ve known them only 1 year and they are dubbed “old”!  😉 }

I attend many conferences in a given year, most of them technical conferences.  There is no lack of fascinating, novel things at these conferences. Once in a while, there will even be a subject which evokes, the “WOW! Effect”.  But, I have NEVER, as in never ever, been to a conference where there was not just one, but TWO speeches which forced me to update my thinking.  Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris and Dr. Leandro Herrero are the real thing.  They are two of the gems of our race.  I thank them for having the courage and persistence to keep asking, “Why?”.  They tracked phenomena right back to their respective cores and the world will be a better place because of it.

As suspected, the vibe of the conference was quite different than it was in 2012.  The new faces brought the exuberance. Most of the veterans were different.  Some were not necessarily tired or weary.  They were just ‘experienced’.  Others were truly tired and weary… mainly the Estonians.  I’d even go so far as to say that some have reached burnout.  This is why I brought up the subject of succession so many times.  It’s not the right time to close up shop yet.  7 million last year.  70 million this year.  700 million within 3 years… then we can declare victory.  But that requires stamina.  This kind of stamina cannot be expected from the same set of people.  There needs to be fresh faces and a constant inflow of new energy, mainly in the core team.  Who is the next Anneli?  Who is the next Rainer?  Who is the next Toomas, Tiina, Nara, etc,?

Whether they be experienced, tired, weary, or even burned-out, there is one level that they have not reached… RESIGNATION.  It’s the coalition of the caring.  That’s what inspires me.  That’s what inspires the world.  Every trial lawyer and every negotiator in the world knows this one basic rule: He who cares the most, WINS.  This is why we accomplish more in a 1 – 2 hour LDI conference workshop than most companies can accomplish in months.  The participants care enough about the common dream to put aside selfish factors and other destructive behaviors.  We care enough to act.

And this is why WE will win.

I have stolen a statement from Rainer Nõlvak, one of the founders.  (Plagiarism is for amateurs, btw.  Professionals just blatantly steal.)


“These are the finest people I know.”

This is now my statement as well.

In the process of writing all this down, I have figured out what that magic dust is that turns Tallinn into Neverland.  For me, it starts with the intense caring of all these people.  Now combine it with the fact that they not only acknowledge and appreciate that same caring others, they promote it.  They applaud it.  This sets off a resonance and it amplifies… voila… magic.

I left feeling recharged.  I felt confident about the campaign ahead.  Now with nearly 2 months distance from it, I know that I had indeed returned to Neverland.  That’s why I will return again and again.  I need my fix of pixie-dust.

We all do.

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