Jeff Rosenthal is the co-founder and curator of Summit, an organization best known for hosting innovative gatherings that unite the leaders of today and tomorrow through environments and events designed to catalyze positive personal and collective growth. He leads Summit’s music, art, content, and community curation programs, as well as architecture, design, and development at Summit Powder Mountain. The following is an excerpt from 3 Billion Under 30: How Millennials Continue Redefining Success, Breaking Barriers, and Changing The World, to which Jeff is a contributor.
e’re all interconnected. We all have mutual friends on Facebook, and we can all see who is socially connected to one another. All these connections are trackable, so whereas a decade ago there wasn’t as much accountability in our professional and personal circles, now it is understood that you’ll be seen operating outside of industry norms and cultural values if you take advantage of somebody for one deal or steal someone else’s ideas.
We’re also living in the age of polymaths.
Never before in human history have more people held more information about more things. Our ability to learn through the network reality that we live in and the internet is unsurpassed, and through parallel innovation and collaboration between like-minded people from different disciplines, generations, and backgrounds, we’re finding the most complex and impactful outcomes to the problems we face.
This means that community is essential now more than ever. Building communities increases our trust in others, and it accelerates our opportunities to solve important problems.
We started Summit almost nine years ago because we wanted to build a peer group of entrepreneurs building interesting projects. We began cold-calling, messaging, and reaching out to other young entrepreneurs who we had read or heard about. We ended up with nineteen people for our first gathering, a ski trip in Park City, Utah. On that trip, there were folks like Blake Mycoskie from TOMS Shoes, Dustin Moskovitz, who cofounded Facebook, David de Rothschild the explorer, Scott Harrison from charity: water, Garrett Camp before he cofounded Uber, and others who formed this incredible collection of people, all of whom we met in the first six months of being in business.
Since we had contacted all these people through personal reach out, all of them began to invite their friends to our second event, and within nine months of operation, we were creating events on behalf of the Obama administration for the White House, helping them curate the nation’s top entrepreneurial leaders.
During that event, Tony Hsieh gave us some great advice. He said, “Guys, there are people here that you wouldn’t be friends with if it weren’t for their professional success. Would you have them at your parents’ house for dinner or hang out with them if they didn’t have any of their business stuff? If not, then you can’t invite them to events anymore because when you’re building a community, your culture is the most important thing you have.”
We were only 22 or 23 at the time, so what he said blew our minds. Were we really building a community? What does it mean to have a culture for your community?
It’s funny looking back on how naive we were to how much hard work it takes to scale not just a community but a business, and then not just a business but a movement. We came up with criteria for Summit that is similar to what 3 Billion Under 30 stands for and what you should be looking for as you build your own communities at work and at home.
Does someone do innovative work regardless of their discipline? Are they a kind, open-minded, and nice person that we’d want to be around regardless of personal or professional success?
When we began curating our events and building our community by asking these questions about others, it led us to an incredibly diverse gathering of multigenerational and multidisciplinary thought leaders and an environment where there were no personal agendas. Today, if people come to Summit looking to “network,” they will fail in the experience because they’re only looking to extract value and not provide help to others. However, when people come into our community looking to learn, meet interesting people, and let whatever comes from those relationships happen naturally, then they’ll have a much better experience.
The same is true outside of our events and should be in the communities you’re creating. If you’re friends with someone, you should do whatever you can to help that person regardless of vested interest or personal gains other than seeing that person succeed. Put friendships first, and then allow whatever happens to your business or social partnerships to come out of those interactions. You’ll end up with lifelong relationships and the foundation of high-trust social networks and problem-solving attempts.
We’ve found that dynamic shared experiences are what create these types of relationships. It’s why we focus on every aspect of a Summit event, from the speakers on stage to the members of the audience and the immersive programming everyone gets to enjoy. We’ve chartered ocean liners, taken over mountain towns, and tried to recreate the types of environments inspired by Bauhaus, The House of Medici, Gertrude Stein, Katharine Graham, and the rich history of salon culture and art.
The concept of bringing thought leaders and those from diverse backgrounds together and making things happen has been prevalent throughout history. It can be seen today through efforts of individuals like Robert Redford, who created Sundance, the Paepcke family that built modern Aspen, and other stories and examples of places and communities being created around shared values and characteristics of the people who want to visit, stay, or live there.
People like to refer to us as the younger, hipper Davos, and while referencing other communities or organizations to describe another only begins to describe a community at its core, it’s fair to say we were a conference in 2010. We shifted away from that as we learned all about building things around the table and incorporating food, music, art, narrative, and ritual into the experiences we create. We pride ourselves on making no small plans, and it’s true that when you’re doing things that are inspiring and stretch human capacity, you don’t need to market yourself. Others will do it for you because your work is the first of its kind.
Our events shifted over time to become what they are now. They are now choose-your-own-adventures that are all-encompassing, experiential, and ultimately these moments in time from which we’ve built an international community. Now we’re building our own physical town dedicated to these ideals of our generation. Open-minded. Creative. Entrepreneurial. It’s all possible because of our interconnectivity and the age of polymaths in which we live, where we can bring together the types of people we need to make it possible, from landscape developers to architects, road planners, hoteliers, retailers, restaurateurs, and others.
Our generation has a lot of great ideas, but we don’t necessarily always match our innovation with the day-to-day and step-by-step work it takes to carry out those plans. Great ideas occur all the time, but what’s rare is matching those ideas with teams of people who are dedicated to doing everything it will take to make those thoughts become a reality.
What I’ve come to realize is that linear effort reaps exponential results. We live in a world of exponential realities, so if you can set a goal on a linear trajectory and work daily to solve problems, learn new information, and improve, you can make meaningful things happen. Even if you’ve had some success, what’s most important regardless of where you are on your path is that you’re always looking for the solutions you need to move past the next critical problem in your business or personal development. Everything else becomes an excuse for why you aren’t able to get things done in the way you want; it must be met with your efforts to break through whatever is standing in your way.
Business, community-building, and personal development are all about problem solving, and there are no secrets. Are you going to do the linear, day-to-day work needed to make your ideas real?
We’ve done this over the last nine years, and now we have an investment fund where we’ve become investors in companies like Uber, Warby Parker, Change.org, and LendingClub. We have a really active institute that does a tremendous amount of artist-in-residency type programs and conservation programs (through Summit, we built the first marine-protected area in the Bahamas), and we’re working with dozens of nonprofit organizations. We’ve seen billions of dollars in for-profit and nonprofit partnerships happen through our community, and we’ve seen people get married and start families. We’ve attracted SEAL Team Six members and astronauts, startup founders and philanthropists, rockstars and billionaire luminaries, yoga teachers and juice bar owners.
There is a through line connecting this diverse group. Are these people dedicated to innovation? Do they wake up and want to see things change or get better? Are they willing to put in the work to make those improvements? That is our culture.
While we read a lot about staying humble or having a beginner’s mindset, creating value is important too. We’ve spent almost a decade traveling around the world, meeting incredible people, connecting them with other like-minded individuals that could benefit their adventures or initiatives, and all without any real expectation of return.
You can imagine that this sort of selfless giving to others and community-building efforts have led to exponential progress for us, where we’ve now been able to buoy one of the most impactful gatherings of thought leaders in the world from a multi-disciplinary leadership perspective. While the diversity among those we serve has led to more complexity, I don’t think we’d be successful in terms of our generational ethics, values, characteristics, and the resources that we have the opportunity to represent.
Our team at Summit has a lot to lose as well, in the sense that we’re on a decades-long mission to build our biggest initiative now on Powder Mountain, a mountain town dedicated to these ideas. Who knows what is going to come from this over 20 years, and if that time would have been well spent? We’re deep in the process now and certainly public about our efforts to the point where our reputations are on the line, but it’s important to note that none of our family and closest friends will love us any more or less whether or not we succeed in the business or entrepreneurial ventures we set out to accomplish.
These efforts are possible because we live in a golden age of creativity, innovation, and collaboration, where information is connected and our ability to build things is at an all-time high. While it has caused a lot of noise as well, I think we’re now seeing a huge impetus for us to take on real problems in our work. We need to apply our minds and our talents to things that will have greater impact, and this could be our generational legacy where we take on challenges that aren’t simply the next logical progression of the realities in which we live, but rather have exponential impact on our communities and lives. In this way, we can re-score what it means to be successful in our time.
Let’s make our generational output about having greater impact on the people around us, taking care of our communities, doing work that makes life better for others regardless of your discipline or area of interest. Sure, this can make us more money, but it may also lead to happiness, receiving more love, earning more respect from those whose approval we crave, and aligning our values with our expressions.
What will we create in this world?