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5 things I learned at Aspen Ideas Festival

In it's 9th year, The Aspen Ideas Festival gathers some of the "most interesting thinkers in the world" to talk about issues, ideas and what inspires them.  The Aspen Ideas Festival is presented by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic who are dedicated to dialogue and exchange and committed to bringing their leadership ideas to the public at large.

Click4 pix: 5 Things I learned at Aspen Ideas Fest.

AspenSpin was not credentialed press for Aspen Ideas fest but we did get to experience our first AIF as a volunteer and by attending a few events that were open to the public.  We were not privy to the inner sanctums of AIF (credentials only)...where the real ideas probably flow.  We got a small taste of the brain power that convenes in Aspen every June on the beautiful Aspen Institute campus at Aspen Meadows.

We had very lofty expectations for Aspen Ideas Fest.  In some ways the conference met those expectations.  In other ways...meh.  At AspenSpin we try not to judge..but...judge we do.  We're not attempting to be critical or snarky, but hopefully you'll share our wry observations. 

IDEAS = PRIVATE JETS.  Apparently if you have really good ideas you can convert them into a private jet...or at least a fractional jet share program.   The tiny Aspen Airport was stacked deep with private planes during Aspen Ideas Festival.  

Arianna Huffington and David Brooks of The New York Times. Click 4 pix.THOUGHT LEADERS NEED TO SELL BOOKS TOO.  There are some very smart people speaking at Aspen Ideas Fest.  They have some great ideas and they're sharing them with the world.  Some of the sessions are extremely interesting and informative. Others are esoteric, obtuse and nebulous.  Maybe the stuff is just over my head?   One thing is very clear...selling goods and services is a must...even for thought leaders.  For example, I was fired up for a lunch session entitled "Family Wealth..is it really about the money?" presented by the official Trust Company sponsor of AIF, U.S.Trust.  My previous career as a wealth manager prepared me well for this speech.  I knew most of the lingo...so I was hopeful that I would get some interesting and useful take home points.  Not the case.  The session turned out to be a sales pitch extolling the virtues and strengths of U.S. Trust's Trust Services Department. Wow not what I expected.  Maybe i'm too cynical.

The Politics of Volunteering:  Volunteering is a great way to immerse yourself in Aspen Ideas Festival.  When I reported for duty, I was hoping for a good position, maybe interim CFO or at least temporary Managing Director.   I was assigned to join the gift bag stuffing effort.  My direct supervisor was a 20 year old college sophomore.  Most of the bag stuffers were high school students, but a few, like myself were older, former professionals.  Stuffing 3000 gift bags builds character & camaraderie, but the office politics was fierce. Certain volunteers had developed pseudo-authority and attempted to influence the group dynamic.  I kept my head down & kept stuffing.  Some long-time volunteers were rewarded with golf cart keys, lanyards with personalized credentials, collared AIF shirts and sweet room monitor assignments.  I should have kissed more a$$.

Blah, Blah, Blah...Yada, Yada, Yada.  I know...it's an ideas festival. Discourse is the goal, right? But boy can these people rap. It's not just the speakers and panelists... it's the attendees & volunteers too. But what are they saying...I often couldn't figure it out.  One well heeled fest-goer winked and said "the emperor wears no clothes.  Another guest chimed in with "much ado about nothing" to describe AIF.  There's no doubt there are a lot of amazing ideas shared at AIF... but separating them from the rhetoric can be challenging.

Intellectuals love Aspen too.  It's pretty clear that the AIF crowd loves Aspen.  Everybody has their interpretation of the Aspen Idea... mind, body & spirit.  The intellectuals and their posse's are in Aspen to gather, engage, explore and lead us to "a good society".  They seem to be doing just that...as well as enjoying the natural beauty, the social & cultural opportunities and the hedonistic offerings.  If there's one idea that everyone agrees upon...Aspen is the best.

An Aspen Ideas panel discussion about the Middle East. Click for pix.Mark Penn, who may or may not be leading Hillary Clinton's possible run for the White House in 2016. Click 4 pix.The Aspen Institute's Campus at Aspen Meadows is fantastic. Click for pix.

Alpenglow in Aspen for The 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival. Click 4 pix. 



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Reader Comments (1)

Your observations my clever friend are spot on. Was just reminded about my own feelings surrounding this event. I too worked behind the scenes for several years and grew to be quite disappointed with the whole Idea. Hypocrisy runs deep across the campus.

July 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave

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