Portfolio: Aspen Institute
In October, I participated in a Leadership Fundamentals program at the venerable Aspen Institute. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I hoped to get some insights into how leadership, innovation and collaborative skills are developed or improved.
When my itinerary arrived, it included an unexpected and strenuous reading list: Aristotle, Anton Chekhov, Niccolo Machiavelli, Confucius, Martin Luther King and Chimamanda Adichie. It had been awhile since I had read any of these philosophers-writers-leaders. Curious as to how these passages would apply to the program, I was excited after reading the final one, Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story, ” which summed up the common thread among all of them.
Adichie, who can be seen on video at TED Talks, tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice—and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. Our lives—our cultures—are composed of many overlapping stories, says the novelist.
These stories get to the core of the institute’s seminar programs, which challenge leaders in every field to think more critically and deeply about “the good society” through neutral text-based dialogue, based on readings that demonstrate “timeless human values, common ground and a richer understanding of the human condition.” The texts act as great equalizers, says Todd Breyfogle, our moderator and the institute’s director of seminars. “They encourage an environment of trust. We don’t need to agree but we find a way to work together civilly.”
The days I spent at Aspen away from deadlines combined with the comfortable roundtable setting of the meeting room and conference center, the harmonious accommodations at the Aspen Meadow Resort (home of the institute) and the outdoor activities included in the package freed my mind and set it wandering. A perfect coda came after I returned home and read an NPR blog, “Leonardo’s To-Do List,” about one of the world’s greatest innovators.
“It is useful to constantly observe, note, and consider,” Leonardo da Vinci is quoted as saying by blogger Robert Krulwich, who goes on to cite other studies supporting the benefits of not being focused, of allowing the mind to consider stray associations. He concludes, “That ability to let go, float free, does seem like an essential part of a creative mind, not just in giant ones. Those of us who make our livings closer to the ground, have to do it too.” Amen.
About The Resort
Aspen Meadows Resort, home of the Aspen Institute, has 22,000 square feet of IACC-approved meeting space. The 14 nicely appointed meeting rooms, all set as roundtables, can accommodate groups from 20 to 800. There are several options for special events on the artfully landscaped grounds. The Dolce Resort’s 98 guest suites, located on 42 acres along the Roaring Fork River in Aspen’s historic West End, are decorated in Bauhaus style and include many amenities, including complimentary high-speed wireless Internet, shuttle service and the resort’s state-of-the-art health club. For more information about the resort, the institute and its programs, visit aspeninstitute.org and dolce.com.
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Christine Born is editor-in-chief of Collaborate. She describes her portfolio as “a mixed bag, holding a wide-ranging but surprisingly complementary collection of experiences that includes journalism and editing, teaching and speaking, designing stage sets, planning events, traveling, living aboard a boat and parenting.”