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Top Teaming: Learnings from the Aspen Institute

For those of us who like to/need to feed our minds, the Aspen Institute is a gourmet cafeteria.  Some of the best minds from all disciplines meet in mostly informal settings to converse, debate, collaborate, and deepen thinking about issues that matter most – physics, medicine, geopolitics, business, music – all in the beautiful setting of the Colorado mountains in summertime.

I’ve spent the better part of the month here attending lectures, political seminars, and symphonies, doing some biking and a little fly fishing while trying to integrate what I’ve heard.  Some top line observations:

  • We are in trouble but have great hope.  There was high agreement across disciplines that the economic issues in the US (and Europe) represent the greatest threat to national security.
  • We are moved too often by certainty, rather than by real dialogue about the facts.  This is true in science, medicine, politics and business.  3 Nobel Prize Laureates revealed with great humor that their important discoveries emerged from recognition that what they thought was so—was, in fact, not.  The data pointed in another direction.
  • We have a crisis in confidence: we do not trust one another (especially our politicians) and have become polarized in our beliefs and thinking.  Adam Reiss, a Nobel physicist, Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State, and Jon Huntsman (former Governor of Utah, Ambassador to China, and presidential candidate) all separately defined fundamentalists as those who make up their minds before they examine facts.
  • The informal time that people of different disciplines, cultures, and belief systems spend together is invaluable.  They dialogue (dia-logos – an exchange of ideas), they collaborate (physicians, engineers, physicists, and businessmen look at illness together and re-contextualize what health means), and they build relational intelligence (American, Chinese, and Europeans talk together over drinks, and build trust). And ultimately, they realize that what is most important is that we share the same planet and very fundamentally we care about the same things.

So as I come back to my work with leaders and their teams, I am re-engaged by the need for and spirit of dialogue, of the need for people to come together informally to talk about the things that matter most, and to build real relationships with one another to unlock their collective intelligence.

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