Over the last several years, much has been written about the fact that conferences like the World Economic Forum in Davos, where titans of industry flock each winter, are not actually about the panels and discussions printed on the agenda. In Switzerland, Georges Soros basically installs himself at the Hotel Europe Piano Bar, where the upper echelons of finance can be found late-night signing "Sweet Caroline" like a drunk rugby team. Skipping a talk on emerging market growth to knock up a local is standard procedure, according Anya Schiffrin (wife of economist Joseph Stiglitz). Scoring an invite to a snow bunny-themed rave thrown by Bain Capital is worth scratching out a few organizers' eyes over. The same philosophy holds for events like the SALT Conference, happening in Vegas this week, where you could bust your ass to make it to a 9AM chat about about the Global Macroeconomic Forecast featuring Mohamed El-Erian and Peter Schiff, but wouldn't want to at the expense of bailing on an early morning pool party at the Bellagio with a bunch of potential clients, where the Rey Sol Anejo flows freely and no one's gonna get mad at you for losing the shirt but keeping the tie, Chippendales-style.
If you're new to the conference circuit and/or still confused as to why people prioritize the parties over panels, Felix Salmon has helpfully laid it out for us at the Times this week. In sum: no wants to hear you drone on for hours at a time and you're much more f*cking likable when you're drunk.
If you were to draw up a list of events that people are worried about not getting into, the disconnect becomes even greater. No one cares much about the official panels, but everyone cares about snagging a coveted invite to one of the many satellite parties — the more exclusive the better, naturally. The Google party, the McKinsey party, Korea Night, Japan Night, the Accel wine party (R.I.P.), the SkyBridge wine party, the Thomson Reuters ski party, the Salesforce party, the J.P. Morgan party, ad man Martin Sorrell’s chalet party, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s chalet party, that crazy party that Sean Parker threw where stuffed animals had lasers coming out of their eyes — these are the bits of Davos (much to the organizers’ chagrin) that become the memorable highlights. The panel discussion on “Europe’s Twin Challenges: Growth and Stability,” not so much...If you’re Facebook billionaire Sean Parker or hedge-fund schmoozer Anthony Scaramucci or, indeed, any of the financial-services machers looking to press as much senior-client flesh as possible in a highly constrained amount of time, then listening to Very Important People drone on about systemic risks for an hour is probably your idea of hell. And that, really, is why the parties have emerged as so vital.
Parties, much more than panel discussions, are a superefficient means of getting people learning from each other. Because there’s no formal structure, conversations can last 30 seconds or three hours. They’re also stimulating, in a way that becomes increasingly necessary as the long, jet-lagged days and ever-shorter nights drag on. They keep you awake and alert and alive: They jolt you back into paying attention rather than drifting off. They’re an unrivaled serendipity engine. And, of course, they feature large quantities of that peerless social lubricant, alcohol.
Obviously these things need to have the patina of respectability but, maybe as a test, we just hold the next WEF at Coachella and see what the response is like. George Soros is already going anyway, and organizers could set up the welcome booth at his VW camper.
Plutocrats Gone Wild [NYT]