My mind was (and still is) completely consumed with thoughts, ideas, the conversations, and the experiences I had at Grok. This is usually the case after conferences, but especially so after Grok. This was my third annual attendance and, in my opinion, the best one yet. The people, the dialogue, the keynotes, the venues, and holy crap... the BMWs.
Fresh off the heels of conversations from the previous night of early registration, we kicked day one off by hanging out, chatting, and drinking some seriously top notch coffee from Will of Vagabond Barista. Will was probably the happiest person at the conference. As soon as you approach his pop up coffee stand, his face lights up and he's all, "Dude! What's up!? What's your name, man?" He's genuinely thrilled that you are approaching his table for some $4 dollar coffee when there is free coffee 20 yards away. Will was one of my favorite people from Grok 2014. I also had the pleasure of riding with him as he drove the BMW M3 in the timed laps. Happiness times twenty. Oh what we all could learn from Will and his perspective on life.
Kristian Andersen and the Meaning of Success
After coffee, Kristian Andersen gave a great talk covering the three lies of success.
- You need to go to college
- You need to buy a house
- Follow your passion
Kristian wasn't completely dogmatic in his views of the first two points, but rather provided insight into why these have become the default "next steps" after high school and why it's smart to consider alternatives.
His third and best point was a lie, according to him, that he has told people for years: "Follow your passion." He dismantled the idea that there is this passionate "thing" you want to do and if you do it then everything will be rainbows and sunshine. Kristian spent some time on the meaning of passion and how its latin root literally means "suffering." He spoke of the passion of Christ and how the word is appropriately used in that context.
He outlined a number of brands that drew a line in the sand with their beliefs and were willing to "suffer" for what they believed, drawing examples from Southwest Airlines and their cheesy, country music-singing flight attendants to Virgin Airlines with their high value of design, relevance, and sexiness. Virgin even has designer barf bags. Kristian pointed out that these two brands know who they are, what they stand for and are willing to suffer for it.
His talk wrapped up with a challenge to the audience: "What are you willing to suffer for?" As opposed to "follow your passion." This idea set a great tone for the rest of the conference.
These times can be hit or miss depending on the group you are with and the topics presented. There is a moderator who outlines the process of presenting a topic to the group, speaking to it for a while, and finally discussing it with the group. Overall I'm very pleased with the ideas that got kicked around. It's great to have these nook and cranny conversations during the main event.
Mason Stewart, Ryan McCrary, and John Saddington
Next up were a few, quick-burst curated talks from three fine gentleman.
Mason Stewart, instructor at The Iron Yard's Code School, gave a great little talk on learning styles and his experience with a great teacher who gave her students room to learn in the own unique ways.
Ryan McCrary, executive director at Great Outdoor Adventure Trips, told a great story about his journey to teach lower income kids about business. After a few failed attempts at traditional presentation of business concepts to these 8-15 year olds, he found success by helping them start their own screen printing t-shirt business. He challenged the audience to discover ways we could help others by our own work.
John Saddington, a guy who's done a lot of cool things, took a very practical nuts and bolts walk through his process of concepting, sketching, designing, programming, and eventually selling several of his successful products.
Squarespace Drink Up at Barley's
A nice social event to cap off the first day. Lots of good conversations with a variety of folks. I would attempt to list them all here, but I'm sure I'd make an accidental omission. You know who you are and I truly enjoyed it.
We kicked things off on day two in a similar fashion with Will's most excellent coffee and some light conversations with the group. This day was a thinner crowd than the day before since half of the crew, Group 1, made the trek up to the BMW Performance Driving School, while the other half, Group 2, stayed for 10/20s.
The discussions on this day seemed more rich than the previous day. Perhaps everyone had gotten a bit more acclimated to the idea and format. There was quality banter on remote working, designer developer relationships, zombie apocalypse weapons and more.
BMW Performance Driving School
Hole. Lee. Cow. This was fantastic. I knew this was going to be good, but I seriously had my mind blown. We took a conversation-packed bus trip up to Spartanburg. After arriving, we had some prep from the lead instructor and signed our lives away on a waiver. I was more than obliged to do this.
The first car I drove was the 575 Horsepower BMW M6 with the competition package, including carbon fiber and ceramic brake kits valued a $9,000. For some reference, the brakes on the M6 are worth more than my current vehicle, a 2003 Honda Element.
I was super excited yet oddly relaxed about the idea of driving these high performance cars, but after the instructor gave us the run down about paddle shifting, acceleration, braking, etc. I got a little nervous. My hands were totally shaking as I prepared to drive the $120,000 vehicle at speed on a race course. The M6 was crazy fast and crazy fun.
The next course I ventured to, was the timed lap track where there were four M3s taking turns doing laps to see who could get the fastest time. You could hear and smell burning rubber as each machine bolted around the track with varying levels of amateurism. This was my favorite track to drive and most people I talked to felt the same way. I could have done that over and over and over for several days in a row. So much fun.
The last track I drove was an oval slick track with sprinklers going to wet everything down. Two competitors were positioned on each side of the track and raced 3 laps to see who was declared the winner. Many cars spun out and apparently someone drove a car straight off the track into a ditch filled with water. I wish I could've seen that. This track was fun but not as much as the others.
Then there was the heat lap on a much longer road course. This was a ride only track where a professional race car driver blazed the asphalt at ungodly speeds. I have so much more respect for race car drivers now after seeing what one can do behind the wheel of a crazy fast M6.
There was an off-road course where you could drive the latest X5s up and down rocky terrain and through water, but I was so engulfed in the road tracks I never got around to doing it.
All in all, it seemed like everyone was on cloud nine the entire time. Perma-grins were plastered on the face of each grok crew member and we all sounded like a bunch of grade school kids talking about how awesome everything was. Fantastic event.
Sam Fogarino of Interpol
Sam gave an honest and raw talk about his pursuit of a music career, eventually becoming Interpol's drummer, and making records. He talked about how egos can so easily infect the collaborative process and that respect for one another is ultimately what is needed to be a successful group.
Facebook After Party
Imagine perfect weather by a river in an open air pavilion. A gentle breeze is slightly blowing and the smell of fresh cooked food lures you in. There's a bar where the alcohol flows like wine and Grokkers flock like the salmon of Capistrana. There's a guy cutting and lighting a variety of cigars for those who care to indulge. Live music is tickling your ears while you continue to go on and on about the BMW adrenaline rush from earlier that day. This was the after party. It was a solid finish to a fantastic two day event.
Afterwards a group of us hit up Trappe Door for awhile and on my walk back to the hotel, I ate half a pizza.
The crowd thinned a bit this day as some folks cut out early, but this was a great time to squeeze in some last minute conversations before everyone traveled back to their own part of the world. We were on a rooftop in downtown Greenville and once again were blessed with lovely weather.
Bryan Martin gave a status update on Hunger Crunch and the long journey that it's taken to get where they are today with the game. His talk was truly moving and very inspiring. Bryan is a very humble guy who genuinely believes he is nothing special and definitely not super. But I can tell you that he is an incredible artist, presenter, and one all-round super dude. The fact that he thinks he is not super makes him even more super, in my opinion. Hats off to Bryan, Dodd, Rob, and team for their absolutely moving work on Hunger Crunch and their mission for Rice Bowls. I have no doubt in my mind they are on to something really really big.
Iron Yard Code School Graduates
Mason Stewart introduced a handful of Code School graduates who worked on a final projects over the last two and a half weeks of their program. Seeing their final projects was really incredible especially considering that 99% of them had zero coding experience before they began the course. It's really cool to see the success of The Iron Yard's Code School program.
If you haven't gathered this from reading the rest of the post, let me say it bluntly - Grok was amazing. This was the best year yet and if you've never been, you should absolutely make it out next year to come see for yourself that all the hype is true.
I left Grok inspired to do more and to focus on what matters. I'm determined to press in to gain more and more clarity on exactly what it is that I'm willing to suffer for.
Image courtesy of @sperte.
Image from @jivandave.
Image from @jivandave.
Image from @jivandave.