The Brightest and Best Minds All In One Place

Would you love to meet the brightest minds in your industry?

Who wouldn’t?

Well, I just did.

I attended the WorldBlu conference in NY. My blinders were ripped off my face. (In a good way.) Every speaker gave me some insight into work happiness that flooded me with new ideas to further the Work Happy Now cause.

I’m so excited to be sharing this experience with you that it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.


Life is About Game Changers


Who do you think of as the greatest investor in the last 100 years?

Most of you probably thought of Warren Buffett.

Who do you think of when I ask you who is the greatest basketball player of all time?

Most of you probably thought of Michael Jordan.

The speakers at the WorldBlu conference are business game changers. They’ve figured out methods that improve productivity, profits, and employee engagement. They realize that they must put their people before profits. Environment before more money. Results before putting in time at work.

The funny thing is that they are just as profitable if not more so and their conscious is clean. They are proud of how their businesses are run. They make it easy to enjoy what they do because every choice is dictated by improving relationships, not making more money.

These business leaders create long term relationships with their customers. They can do this because their employees are engaged. As we all know engaged employees are happy and happy employees pass those good feelings on to the customer.


It’s About Choice


They choose to care about making the work atmosphere more fun, creative, and enjoyable. It’s the cyclical law of abundance. The more we give the more people will give back to us. These “Game Changers” understand company karma plays a role in every choice.

I will summarize each speaker’s message, giving you a wonderful piece of knowledge that you can use to make your work life a little happier and hopefully the people at your work as well.

WorldBlu was created to promote democratic companies that are making a difference in the world. That means optimizing each employee’s strengths and trusting them to do an awesome job. Too many top down organizations are run as if a parent must keep a close eye on every little thing their children (employees) do. It’s time to take businesses out of the industrial age thinking and update them to fit this new world.

It’s a lot of information so grab a coffee, tea, or Maté and take your time to enjoy all the little nuggets of wisdom.


Day 1 – Context, Design, Leadership, Next




Marshall Ingwerson – Managing Editor of Christian Science Monitor.

Marshal was a straight forward speaker who delivered his clear message. He began with a quote from Tolstoy, “Don’t give orders. Give confidence.” He went on to say that winning is about honing your radar, and winning and losing happen at the play of action.

As leaders, we can’t do it all. We have to trust the people that support our company. If the leader makes every decision, s/he isn’t taking the time to build her/his employees’ confidence to do it on their own. Eventually the owner/CEO won’t be there and if the systems are in place for the employee to do it on his/her own then good decisions will always be made.


Dr. Srikumar S. Rao – Author of Are You Ready to Succeed

“I have a vision – that your blood is singing when you wake up.”

Dr. Rao wants everyone to wake up looking forward to going to work. How many times have you awakened on a Monday and just wished it was Sunday? I know I have.

He went on to say that one of our most hurtful habits is our mental chatter. It shapes our world. We create a mental model of the way the world works. If this model is ever disrupted we become uncomfortable.

It’s because we’ve created a “me centered” universe. We interpret how things affect us, whether it be our commute to work or the feelings of frustration that bubble up after a fight with a co-worker. We get so caught up in these feelings that it wrecks our work experience.

When we can let go of this “me centered” thinking and become a part of a cause that brings a greater good to the community then that’s when we can learn to be happy. We stop working to get ahead and start working towards larger vision.

“The function of a manager is finding out what reduces an employee’s motivation and getting rid of it.”

Employees know how to work hard if we give them the tools to make it happen. This isn’t easy, but communication is the key. When we listen to what’s right and wrong we can do more of what’s right and remove the barriers from the employee’s lives.


Ingrid Vanderveldt – Host of CNBC’s “American Made” and CEO and Founder of Club E Network

“We want a sense of control.”

Ingrid talked about the 4 C’s.

–        Context

–        Clarity

–        Communication

–        Choices

We need to give employees the context on how the company fits into the global economy. Otherwise they are working in the dark. We must give employees clarity so they know exactly what goals to achieve. There is nothing more demotivating than fuzzy goals. We should communicate the good, bad and the ugly, so everyone knows what’s going on within the organization and how best to fix it. We need to give employees flexibility. When a parent needs to take off to be with a child they need the, flexibility is necessary to keep the employee happy and appreciative of a caring boss.


Mark Dowds – CEO of Brainpark

I enjoyed Mark Dowds humor. He started off with a few Power Point images of his homeland Ireland’s turmoil and explained what it felt like to grow up in such a volatile environment. He talked about playing in the streets then clicked to the slide of a blown up building and a bunch of kids throwing rocks. I love self deprecating humor.

There are many solutions to any given problem and it’s best to get everyone involved. His website is based on connecting people who have similar interests so they can share ideas.




Scott Popiner – Director of Design and Management at Parsons the New School for Design

Scott believes that we need to use space more effectively.

I must admit that I had a little trouble following his presentation. You could tell that he was really intelligent. Almost too smart and it held him back from making clear points.

The points that I did gather were right on. We need to create spaces that allow people to flourish. That means asking employees what type of environment is the best for them and making every effort to design our workspace with the employees’ best interest in mind.


Bill Shannon – Chief Wisdom Officer of DaVita

Bill spoke on many levels of employee to customer relationships. The employees at his company must be able to have fun while delivering dialysis to their patients because the employee’s mood affects the patient’s mood.

He said that belief and behavior both affects the result of the treatments. I agree. I always prefer to go to a doctor who has good interpersonal skills.

Davita emphasizes great culture. They do this by creating traditions and themes to highlight the importance of having fun at work. The teammates (employees) dress in football jerseys to create a fun environment and they are also allowed to joke around with patients to create more of a family atmosphere in the clinics.

Bill really believes in putting the customer ahead of their profits. Most companies wouldn’t try to put themselves out of business, but that’s exactly what they are trying to do by committing their money to curing kidney disease. They believe in doing things differently. They invest money in finding cures for kidney disease because that’s what is in the best interest of their customers.

They believe in the motto “one for all and all for one.” He even made us yell this at the end of his presentation. It was a nice touch to get us engaged in his message.


Rodney North – Vice Chair and Answer Man at Equal Exchange

Rodney delivered a straightforward message on business democracy. His company is 100% employee owned. It doesn’t get any more democratic than that. His company is a prime example of an open and honest workplace.

Any employee can be voted out of his or her current position. This system forces every employee to stay accountable for every decision and action.

The company’s structure is all based on checks and balances, just like a free government. Employees, board members, and management are all equally responsible for the success of the company.

My favorite part was his statement, “We don’t hesitate to fire.” No company should. Some people may not fit into the culture. It’s best not to force the issue for the employee or company. Sometimes an employee needs to be let go so they can find a better fit with another company.




Alexander Kjerulf – Chief Happiness Officer and Author of Happy Hour is 9 – 5

Alex’s interactive talk jolted the crowd to attention after lunch. He made us say hello to our neighbors and do it with gusto.

He talked about two themes:

–        Results

–        Relationships

The two most important reasons for happiness at work.

Almost every employee wants to do good work because they want to provide value on a personal level.

Relationships are also an important ingredient to employee happiness. Just one friend at work will create a more engaged and productive worker.

You could see that he loved his job as he spilled his enthusiasm out into the crowd. He walks the walk and makes the working world a more enjoyable place.


Mike Ferretti – CEO of Great Harvest Bread Company

Let freedom ring!

Mike talked about “freedom centered” policies that made his bread franchise flourish. He doesn’t impose dictatorship-like rules the way other franchises do, (cough McDonalds cough). He wants the owners of each bread franchise to be able to create different products that fit the community needs, change the colors of the store, and create their own flexible schedule.

If I were to own a franchise this would be my first choice.


Bernard Mohr – Co-founder and Principal of Innovation Partners International

“Create a space where people can be their best.”

Most employees spend 50% of their time fighting bureaucracies instead of doing great work.

We need to create systems that allow people to optimize their day. That means letting them design their office, cubicle and their schedule so it fits their needs. It’s when we leverage the diversity of our strengths that we can accomplish great work.


Philip Rosedale – CEO of Linden Labs

If you’ve tried Second Life then you’ve had a glimpse of where a large portion of internet users are going. Second Life is an online world where you can create an Avatar (Character) and interact with other avatars. This online world gives people a chance to meet online and on their terms.  It’s no longer just for fun.

Many companies are holding meetings in this online world.

My favorite part of the program was how this online world levels the playing field. Most meetings are dominated by a few bullies, but Second Life gives people more confidence to speak their minds. It’s not like real life where intimidating people are watching you as you give a presentation. You could be sitting at home giving the presentation – which means more ideas are exchanged and this gives the group the ability to pick the most creative solution, only judging on content instead of how the person looks.




Brett Jackson – CEO of Generation Think Tank

At only 22 years old, Brett helped build the shoe company “Crocs” into a large multimillion dollar company. He is also a part owner of Generation Think Tank.

At 22 I was lucky to survive my boring day job. Some people are early go getters. I wasn’t one of them.

“Gen Y needs Freedom.”

To all those managers out there… Don’t be afraid to trust your younger staff members to do great work. If you watch them too closely they’ll run for another company and go to a more democratic workplace.


Gabriela Albescu – President of AIESEC International

The best part of this conference was the diversity of speakers. Gabriela is from Romania. She is in charge of an International company that develops young people to be agents of change. They vote in their leaders. She went through a grueling two day review before she was finally picked from the other top contenders.

She believes that companies must focus on innovation through freedom. When we can let go of top down management we can get an influx of new ideas from all levels of the organization.


Jennifer Corriero – Co-founder and Executive Director of Taking It Global

I’ve never seen a speaker talk so fast and with so few breaths. With that being said, she was still delightful. Her three main themes were:

–        Inspire

–        Innovate

–        Involve

She emphasized the need to create ideas that inspire people to reach for the stars, allow them to develop these concepts and try to get as many people involved as possible to make it successful. If these ideas resonate with you then check out her social networking site, Taking It Global. It’s the largest networking site dedicated to community involvement and improvement.


Dallas Kashuba – CEO of DreamHost

A young man with grand plans. His 80 employee company is carbon neutral and that includes the carbon emissions from getting to and from work.

“Managers should be minimal.”

Dallas wanted managers to get out of the way of their employee’s creativity, so they can wow the customer. He is reliant on good tech support. If people need help with their website he doesn’t allow his employees to keep passing the buck. They over train and over pay their employees so they give the best customer support in the industry.


Day 1 Wrap Up


After breaking for the day it was time for dinner and a night on the town. The attendees went to Orpheus Chamber Orchestra while I saw Trey Anastasio (Lead singer of Phish) and his band near Time Square. It was the perfect release after so many grand ideas from such wonderful speakers. I danced up a storm. I think it helped me process all the information floating around my brain.

I only was able to get 4 hours of sleep the night before, but it didn’t affect me because the energy level from the conference lifted me up. You could sense that the collective feeling was of possibility and coming change in the business world. After all, just look at where greed and “me centered thinking” has gotten us. It’s time to create more democratic companies that involve everyone in the organization.

It’s time for a massive change and World Blu people are at the hub of this movement.


Day 2 – Style, Transitions, World, Closing Remarks




Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson – Co-Authors of Why Works Sucks and How to Fix It

I did a review of their book. I felt lucky to have met them. They really care about improving the workplace. I do think that they were a little too rehearsed, but none the less still delivered a fantastic message.

Work should be about your results, not how much time you put spend at work. Their ideas have proved to increase employee engagement and productivity, Oh yeah…their techniques make employees happier. It’s a win-win on many levels.


Graham Parker – Executive Director of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Graham oversees the conductor-less orchestra. He was humble and quick witted. Orpheus is a team effort based on structures, leadership, and roles. In order for their system to work, the team shares in the accomplishments and enjoys the freedom to help develop the orchestra’s sound.

Orpheus requires a balance between business and artistic vision. It doesn’t always work. I’m glad he admitted that their system wasn’t perfect, albeit still wonderful. None of the musicians would give away the freedom to help create the sound because it allows them to influence the music. In a conductor-based orchestra they are just a gear in the chain. Orpheus helps them feel more like a part of a team.


Dave Balter – CEO of BzzAgent

Dave was a funny, Nerdy (in a good way), and enjoyable speaker who had my interest from his first sentence to his last. He talked about creating transparency, cultural diversity, and having no secrets. He encouraged transparency by asking the employees to voice their opinions about everything and anything through an anonymous suggestion box. The company then holds a meeting to talk about every issue. People will bring up all kinds of issues, even as small as the need for four pronged forks because it’s hard to eat a salad with the three pronged forks they presently have in the lunch room. The little things matter.

Dave has created cultural diversity through his hiring practices, and brings in a resident artist, Seth Minken, to paint in the office. Seth’s work is weird, but always gets the employees talking.

By discussing issue with the whole company he has created an environment of trust and creativity. Don’t we all strive (wish) for this in our workplace?


Tim Westergren – Chief Strategy Officer at Pandora

Pandora is an awesome music streaming site that lets you give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” to songs. Pandora uses your votes to figure out what you want to hear next. It’s been a great work companion when I’m working on my blog.

My favorite part about Pandora is their ability to take the time to listen to their users at town hall style meetings all over the United States. They want feedback so they can constantly improve the users experience.

Communication is the key to their success. When we listen to our employees and customers we can empathize and make the organization better. 




Kory Kolligan – COO of Continuum

I loved that Kory was not afraid to show his dorky side. He showed the crowd a photo of himself as a young kid in a blazer and bowtie. He poked fun and said, “As you can see I was stylish at an early age.”

He went on to talk about company culture. He was talking to one employee who referred to management as “black helicopters.” That comment scared him. He decided to create a more open atmosphere. He gave up his office and made it a meeting room. He put his desk next to the other employees.

Kory believes in the emotional well-being of his people. This attitude helped Continuum grow from 65 to 200 employees in 12 years. Listening and coaching make up the core of his management philosophy. No leader knows it all, so s/he must listen in order understand how to coach the employees to do good work. He backed this up by hiring someone to nurture their employees – very much like a Work Happiness Manager.


George Wood – Executive Director for the Forum of Education and Democracy, Principal of Federal Hocking High School

George was an amazing speaker who highlighted the need to bring everyone into the decision making process – students, teachers, and board members. George has nothing to do with new hires. The students actually get a say in who gets hired. A small panel made up of students and teachers is formed, and they get to vote on what new teachers should be hired.

Giving up power for the good of the school paid off. Hocking High was a failed school. George turned it into a thriving school with the help of students and teachers. He did this by finding out what the parents and teachers wanted in a school. None of the parents said they wanted their kids to memorize the periodic table and know who won the war of 1812. They wanted their kids to be able to assimilate their knowledge into real world skills. He implemented a system that allowed the students to apply what they learned.

He implemented these plans by slowing the day down. Most high schools push more and more information on their students. They pulled back and only taught four classes a day. This gave the kids time to process and actually use what they learned in project based assignments. He also gave teachers an hour and a half of down time so they too could process the work and students abilities.

All these ideas came from necessity. The principal can’t do it all, so George decided to give away some of his power to the teachers and students in order to create a better learning environment.


Bill Morales – CEO of Tracer Corporation

No one can run a million dollar company on his/her own. Bill recognized the necessity to trust the people. After 9/11 the airlines weren’t paying their bills and Bill was worried that they might go bankrupt. He was so used to making all the decisions that he was stressed out. He finally gave in and unloaded his work onto his employees. His staff took over many of the responsibilities and the business flourished.

The accounts payable manager contacted their vendors and asked for an extension. It never occurred to Bill to try this (he didn’t have the relationship with his vendors like his accounts payable manager did.) They gladly accepted. Tracer was able to recover and get back on their feet. Now they are on the verge of a billion dollar contract.

Bill hasn’t looked back. He admits to becoming more of a cheerleader than a decision maker. Because of these democratic changes, Tracer Corporation is more profitable than they’ve ever been. His motto is “Make Work Fun!” That should be in everyone’s mission statement.




Tim Sanders –  Author of Saving the World at Work

“Scarcity thinking is a disease.”

That beginning was a cold splash in my face. A wake up phrase that I needed. I understood exactly what he meant. I sometimes get so worried about myself that I forget to give back. I do this because I’ve convinced myself that time, money, and people are limited. In reality, limits are self-imposed.

We must create a mindset of abundance, rather than clinging on to resources like they are leaking away. The good companies are creating an environment that builds up the community instead of just trying to take money away from the community. UPS paid high school students to take advance placement (AP) courses and also guaranteed a job at UPS when they graduate high school. That means they get 3.5 applicants per opening. They have their pick of candidates because they create abundance in the community. Most companies want to give back, but they haven’t figured out the best way to do it. They have to learn to give to their community because it will come back around. Karma at its best.


Michael Reining – CEO of MindValley

Michael’s company is based on encouraging personal growth through the power of the internet. MindValley believes in freedom at work. Michael had a couple of cool slides where he came in at 8am, 9am, 10am and no one was in the office. (could you see your company running like that? – wouldn’t it be cool) Then at 11am one person was sitting on the couch with their laptop. They believe in results only environment. As long as his employees reach their goals he doesn’t care where they are or how they get it done.

Michael started MindValley to spread the message of improving everyone’s lives. He tries to create a world that values yoga, meditation, and sharing a vast range of ideas. At the end of his presentation he told the group that one compliment improves a person’s month by 25%. I told my wife this and she told me about a co-worker who gave her a compliment three weeks ago and just yesterday she saw that co-worker and it still brought back those good feelings. Yes, the Work Happy Now ideas work very well.


John Engle – Co-Director and Co-Founder of Beyond Borders

John brings education, leadership development and advocacy for child rights to developing countries. His main focus is Haiti.

He wants the community to create the agenda, making everyone leaders. When we empower people to take control of their lives, they are more willing to make changes that improve the whole community.

I love the work he is doing and you can see that enjoys helping people who so desperately need it. Go check out the Beyond Borders website and see the great work his team is doing.


Chris Mann – CEO of Guayaki

Chris hooked my interest as soon as he took a sip of his Yerba Maté up on stage. He then went on to tell the story of how communities share the Maté with each other, creating closer bonds.

I love Maté. It’s an alternative to a coffee and tea to give you that morning boost. The buzz isn’t as intense so there is not a big crash. Part of that reason is because there are a few calories in each cup, nothing major, just around 5 calories. This helps the body digest it a little easier.

I enjoyed Chris’s message of love, giving back, and environmentally friendly initiatives that his company has practiced. They grow Maté in the rainforests of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. They are committed to restoring a million acres in South America.

Guayaki has helped its employees apply for legal rights, built housing, and has given them transportation to get to the Maté farm and back home. He showed us slides of the farm and its people. The people were engaged and smiling in every picture. They enjoy giving back to the people who have helped them build a popular company.

They treat employees as a part of the team and not as something to take advantage of, and that’s the main reason for their success.


Closing Remarks


Bill Taylor – Founding Editor of Fast Company magazine and Author of Mavericks at Work

Bill Taylor is a business icon who had big expectations to meet. I’ve read Fast Company and his blog Mavericks at Work. I was hoping for a lot of great ideas and he delivered.

“Business is about how creatively you think and how effectively you compete.”

He went on to say that we have to be the most at something. Otherwise we get lumped in the middle of the pack, easily forgotten.

He told a story about a Zappos employee (online shoe company) who received the call from a wife of a customer. She had to cancel her husband’s order because of his sudden death. The Zappos employee canceled the order and after she got off the phone, she used the company credit card to buy flowers for the funeral. The woman was blown away. She told everyone at the funeral about Zappos’s big heart. Bill made a comment about not being able to buy such a fantastic endorsement. They probably added a few customers for life because of that one situation. The employee was given the freedom to be great. She didn’t do it for marketing purposes. She did it because she cared.

That’s the most important lesson I learned from Bill. Business is about building long-term relationships. It’s no longer just about the bottom line. When you support people to people relationships the money will follow.

When a business creates a fun and engaging environment that gets the employee excited, this energy pushes the company’s message to the customer. They are drawn to these engaging qualities. The Karma of creating an energy that’s infectious and makes employees and customers tell their friends about the company will build relationships for a long long time. It’s companies like Zappos, Southwest airlines, and Google that will be successful because of it.


Day 2 Wrap Up

You know a conference was successful when…

  1. Speakers stick around to listen to the other speakers.
  2. The seats were still filled at the end of the conference.
  3. Everyone was clapping and hooting and hollering at the end because they were so happy to be a part of this exciting event.

I feel lucky to have experienced the WorldBlu Conference. Thanks to Traci Fenton and her team for putting this  all together. Travis Thomas did an excellent job of hosting.

I love to be a part of a movement that is growing in the business world. The democratic leadership movement works because people want to work for a company that genuinely cares about their employees and the rest of the world. The companies highlighted at this conference prove it. I know that relationships and engaging work are the best ways to encourage employees to improve the company’s bottom line.

The more that companies implement the ideas in this review, the more they can create happy employees and increase profits. It will take time, but most of you should start working on these concepts right now. You’re going to want to stay ahead of the curve and be able to recruit the best employees. We all know what happens when a company has great employees throughout an organization…innovative brilliance.


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3 thoughts on “The Brightest and Best Minds All In One Place”

  1. Karl

    Thank you for this. It is a great summary of a wonderful event. Like you I feel very privileged to have been there.

    I look forward to working with all the new friends I made there to help “transform the workplace.”


  2. Pingback: WorldBlu Live: The Best Business Conference EVER

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