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It’s Who You Are, Not What You Do

Thought Leadership – 11/22/2015

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written by Whitney Kenter, Partner, Managing Member


Networking events hold promise of new contacts and ideas, but they usually fall far short. We gravitate toward familiar faces and topics and leave with little inspiration and less follow-up. When you think about it, it’s very inauthentic.

It turns out that we’re going about it all wrong.

My extraordinary experience with Summit at Sea made three things very clear to me:

  • “Who are you?” is much more valuable than “What do you do?”
  • Unplugging is liberating, not constricting.
  • New ways of thinking, inspiring and connecting are changing the world. St. Louis too.

The Summit Series has been called “TED meets Burning Man,” and I found it to be nothing short of incredible. Summit at Sea, a specially-outfitted cruise ship filled with leaders and up-and-comers in business and culture, set off from Miami with a robust program of internationally-known speakers, panel discussions, performances, and opportunities for fun, food, exercise, and mindfulness. In designing a collaborative environment to share ideas, inspire each other, and build genuine relationships, the organizers knew what I didn’t: the real action is in the space between the plans.  The organic “collisions” that occur among people inspired by those around them, who are sharing who they really are, create the unique environment Summit is known for.

True Networking

Summit participants are constantly surrounded by questions, ideas, and concepts. The setting and people get you thinking in different ways. The creative space in your brain is firing on all cylinders. You’re also self-selecting. I could have scheduled meetings with other people in finance in advance of stepping on the ship, but instead, I found being ‘schedule-less’ created space to meet fascinating people and great contacts through common interests. I learned to join conversations based on my curiosity, not my professional focus, and was surprised to find that it all connected back to my personal and professional identities in unexpected ways – a unique intersection. I don’t know where else this experience exists. Summit connections are more authentic than traditional networking because they start closer to the core of who you are.


Organic collisions were also inspired by simply disconnecting Wi-Fi. We knew it was coming, but as the cut-off hour approached, some struggled to believe it was real. What was initially disorienting became truly amazing.  It was so freeing. We were so much more present to each other. There was no pressure. No one knew what time it was – which was only a problem if you were missing something. Without electronics, we got caught up in the moment. Unable to connect with friends, we were left to meet with whomever we bumped into. Everything was left to serendipity. Since then, I’ve tried to unplug more regularly, which completely changes the quality of my interactions.

Summit to St. Louis

Summit participants are overwhelmingly coastal. I felt like an ambassador – people were surprised to hear about St. Louis entrepreneurs and innovation. They were surprised, but not intrigued. I want to change that. I am challenging myself to energize people by bringing some of this stuff back.  How can I tell everybody at Venture Café about the experience and the people? How do we further build the House of Genius  community in St. Louis? How do I share innovation in education at my kids’ school? Now I’m an ambassador for Summit – I’m searching for a way to translate. I’m wondering how we can facilitate conversations in the St. Louis community. There are so many cool topics around which we can energize people. For example, let’s find out more about Bitcoin and Blockchain and figure out how it can or will impact us in the future.  I’ve shared new ideas for fundraising with Arch Grants Executive Director, Ginger Imster. I have brought back ideas from the discussions I had with CEOs on culture development and talent development. It’s good to get perspective from east and west coast companies, to be familiar with new ideas and adapt them for our use. I’ve got new ideas for Ignite, Matter’s program for pre- to early-career clients and friends, and entrepreneurs, to expand it beyond 20-30 year-olds. I’m looking to create a series of Ignites for any age. These would be inspiring and informing, providing different discussions to all clients.

We know there’s energy building here. There’s much we can do.

Next time, I want my coastal connections to ask, “What’s happening in St. Louis?”

We're ready to share more ideas with you.

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