I just returned to Toronto after a lovely weekend in California where I caught up with old friends, paid a visit to the San Fran GigaOm office and attended a fantastic retreat/un-conference called Cerebrate.
It was all too quick and I hope to get back to the Bay Area soon but the main point of this trip was to join my friend Rajesh in meeting some interesting new people through spending two nights at the Mount Madonna Centre for the 'Cerebrate' event he now organizes twice a year. This was the 4th Cerebrate held in Silicon Valley - the event originated in India with the aim of bringing a diverse selection of 'achievers' from various backgrounds together to actively participate in spontaneous presentations and discussion.
Rajesh was clever in not sending attendee bios (let alone names) to any of us until a couple of days before the event - which made carpooling feasible but left us all in the dark as to what we could expect of the weekend... Being someone used to researching topics and people before meetings, the event took on a personal/social air and I opened myself up to whatever it was going to be.
Around 3pm on Friday I linked up with a Frenchman in town from Malaysia at our pre-determined Metro station rendez-vous and twin hounds raced past just as Ankur Jain arrived in his mustang convertible to pick us up. The 2 hour drive took us past Stanford University, a slew of tech campuses and Google's famed Mountainview neighborhood before climbing through dense fog to arrive in the Redwood forest overlooking Monterrey Bay which would be our home for the next couple of nights. Intrigued to pile out of the car to discover a Hanuman temple amidst the trees, I hit the bell at its entrance; ringing out a confident tone through the forest and marking the start of our time at the Centre with poetic license.
We quickly found the other dozen attendees and joined the troupe on our way to an early supper in the main hall - where the local resident community of Ashtanga Yogis had prepared a meal; as they would for the rest of our stay. From dinner we convened in a central room within the building Rajesh had rented for Cerebrate (which also housed shared sleeping quarters, bathrooms and a small kitchen stocked with tons of tea) and began 25 minute personal introductions; which immediately transcended handshake-hellos and gave us insight into each other's lives. By the time introductions broke for the night the majority of us were happily engrossed in conversation - already feeling quite familiar and keeling over with laughter as humerous anecdotes were related one after the other (and jet-lag fast-forwarded my late-night giddiness by 3 hours!)
After we had introduced ourselves Cerebrate simply consisted of spontaneous talks on topics determined whilst we related our introductions - we each spoke for about 10 minutes and answered questions quite informally. In fact, asides from introducing ourselves and speaking freely on some things we were all interested in, there really wasn't much programming to the event - which is something that made it all that much more personal and effective. Given that the venue provided us with close quarters and our introductions began straight-away, the weekend was simply a slightly-directed means to get to know one-another without purpose...
By its end, Cerebrate had facilitated over 30 hours of talking between 17 people who otherwise may not have ever met each other. Before leaving Mount Madonna we all sincerely delayed our departures - lingering on with the common sentiment of joy at having quickly become actual friends with people who were strangers just days before. Additionally, I was keenly aware that I would love to work with a number of these new friends.
Again, when the drive back to San Francisco was over and Ankur and I had discussed a variety of topics (including the need for Venture Capital and Incubator programs in Africa), and Benjamin had continued his Metro past Powell street, we parted ways committed to staying in touch and confident that we would like to help each other in whatever way we can; including working together.
If you're able to attend a future session of Cerebrate, I highly recommend seizing the opportunity! :)