MOUNTAIN VIEW -- At The Intersection, a conference for innovators from Silicon Valley and the greater tech archipelago, the big social issues of our time were met head-on for a day, discussed and, whenever possible, resolved in time for dinner.
Perhaps that's why the venue chosen for this second annual event was the headquarters of Google, where, as we all know, results are instantaneous.
Many of the 325 registered participants limbered up for Saturday's event with a round of "speed networking" in the Google iPlex, a massive Tinkertoy construction in a sun-splashed courtyard. People at The Intersection didn't sidle up to each other for small talk. They tended to plant themselves squarely in front of each other, made terrifying eye contact and kept the talk very big -- mostly about how they were going to save the world.
Even for Silicon Valley, it was rare to see so many intensely focused people in one room. "These are very bright, creative, self-actualized, scary people," said Laura Olmstead, who had come all the way from upstate New York with her family so her 12-year-old daughter, Marla, could be the featured panelist for Artistic Creation @ The Intersection. "I'm very intimidated."
Could you blame her? Marla began painting when she was 2, was featured on "60 Minutes" for being a prodigy two years later, and is now an old master as a seventh grader. Still, the kid was a bundle of nerves before being interviewed on stage.
"She was terrified," her mom said. "Her heart was beating, her stomach was hurting, but she went up on that stage and she rocked it."
Panelists were dubbed "intersectionalists," and discussion topics included Women @ The Intersection, Entrepreneurship @ The Intersection, Results-Driven Education @ The Intersection.
Indeed, it was a big day for the @ symbol.
"At any given moment, we're either moving towards something we're excited about, or we're moving backwards out of fear," said Randy Haykin, founder of The Intersection, based in large part on ideas set forth in "The Medici Effect" by Frans Johansson. "Right at that moment of the click action, if you're positively set up to take advantage, that could be a huge moment. If you're not, you might not notice it, or convince yourself you can't do it, or be afraid to take a risk. Any one of those things will kill the click moment."
"The Click Moment" happens to be the title of Johansson's new book, and he was on hand to conduct an onstage interview with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, whose own click moment came when he realized the website he and his partners were working on wasn't as good as the one they stumbled on in the process. "They did not set out to create Twitter," Haykin said. "Had he not been observant and aware that they had something even better than what they were working on, there would be no Twitter."
Organizers used a smartphone app called Yasmo -- created by a San-Francisco based start-up -- for the event, which made it possible to stalk -- um, "intersect" -- with every registered intersectionalist, from A to Zito. The San Francisco Giants' starting pitcher, Barry Zito, was a featured speaker, talking mostly about the intersection of his major league career and his avocation as a songwriter. Zito said he began writing tunes after watching other players go into a tailspin when their playing days were over.
"I've seen guys go through major identity crises when they leave the game," Zito said. "The divorce rate is over 70 percent in baseball."
He also talked about the intersection of his two pitching careers: one as a Cy Young winner, the second as a flop for the Giants until last season.
Zito said he had done fine as a starting pitcher when the question he asked himself was "What am I going to do?" It's when the question shifted to his personal fate that things went south.
"When the question was, 'What's going to happen to me?' all the things I'm good at fall by the wayside," Zito said. "Then I'm more concerned with what I'm going to look like. Am I going to be shamed? What are people's opinions of me going to be?"
As soon as Zito stepped off the stage, he got his answer and had his own click moment -- this one with a ballpoint pen -- as a long line of autograph seekers formed before him. They all made good eye contact.
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004; follow him at Twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit.