10.03.2008

Letter from Boston: the 2008 OIA Rendezvous

You are driving your family on an icy highway, and you lose control of the car.

As if gravity suddenly turns its back on you, the tires lose traction, the steering wheel spins, and your brain acknowledges the reality that you're going to hit something. Hard.

But you don't know what that something is going to be. So you hope that the coming impact is minor. That the impact is only a tree.

Only a tree. It's incredible to be rooting for impact with a giant fixed object that's sure to snap an axle and total the car and probably shatter at least two windows. But that's what you're doing. That's what we're doing. And that's the world as it stands right now.

Framed by an uncertain future, there was indeed something special about the election year OIA Rendezvous, completed last night in the grand city of Boston.

Structurally speaking, the format was no different than any OIA event held in the last decade. Speakers. Food. Booze. Speakers. Food. Nap.

But by virtue of the timing,... and I mean timing of the bad kind, the unexpected and staggering arrival of generational, game-changing shifts within mere days of eachother ... it was a truly remarkable and worthy event. Led by the most sobering, realistic, slap-in-the-face batch of keynotes and breakout sessions I have ever attended, I left the gathering inspired, energized, and (ironically) fully fueled up.

Undoubtedly, the speaker list was nailed down months ago: economics, politics, and consumer trends, as usual, were keynote priorities. They're ALWAYS keynote priorities.

But when the market is slipping, the election is tightening, and consumers feel more comfortable growing chickens in their backyard than buying a Costco card ... those keynotes were ingested and digested by a silent, rapt and concerned crowd.

The keynotes -- superstud Robert F. Kennedy Jr, economist Clyde Prestowitz, trendspotter Marian Selzman, NPR's Ken Rudin -- admitted their own uncertainty, comfortably turning to unscripted realism instead of canned powerpoints for impact, and left the gathering of CEOs with a head full of ideas about what the future might hold for those who live and love the outdoor lifestyle.

For all that's bad in the world today, and for all the things that scare the shit out of us as parents and business owners and friends, the big takeaway from the OIA Rendezvous was that outdoor world is more important, more relevant, and more essential to the future of our world than ever before.

Don't take my word for it. Just look around.

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