Life Lessons I Received From 10 of the Brightest Minds

[ 0 ] July 8, 2010 |

You know the feeling.

You walk into a room and you know that everyone in it is not only smarter than you, they are much smarter than you. That’s the feeling I have had at the 6th Annual Aspen Ideas Festival, presented by the Aspen Institute.

The Aspen Ideas Festival is a confab that brings many of the world’s brightest lights to Aspen, Colorado, where they meet, chat, discuss, share and brainstorm extraordinary wisdom. It can be intimidating.

Attendees include the Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the rich Bill Gates, the brave Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson, the successful John Doerr (the Internet’s most accomplished investor), the Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, the connected New York Times reporter David Brooks, the innovative Twitter Founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams and the loquacious CNBC “Money Honey” Maria Bartiromo. There even has been a Bill Clinton sighting at Aspen’s Matsuhisa restaurant. And that’s just a few of the 206 speakers on tap.

And then there’s me. I’m Kelly Hayes, the person who has to sit face-to-face and interview these highly impressive gems for and The Aspen Ideas Festival website.

Though it is a little intimidating to talk to such smart folks, it has also been an incredibly inspiring experience. It’s day four at the Fest and I’ve conducted approximately 30 interviews. I’m looking forward to bringing them all to you on In the interim, here is a list of the Top Ten interviews – of names widely seen in the news and others who are lesser known — at the Aspen Ideas Festival. We hope that their stories and wisdom will connect with you in some form too:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia but fled to find her dignity and eventually became a member of the Netherlands Parliament, author of the novels Infidel and Nomad and founder of the human rights group The AHA Foundation.

Biz Stone and Evan Williams are the founders of Twitter, one the world’s most outrageous innovations this century. Yet, they are modest, down to earth and simply great to be around. (Was that fewer than 140 characters?)

Barbara Ehrenreich is the outspoken author who turned her bout with breast cancer into a realistic look at  how we as a nation delude ourselves with false optimism.

Tony Caine
used his fortune to begin a foundation to put inner-city kids through college and is climbing all 54 of Colorado’s 14, 000 peaks to promote the foundation, 54 Summit.

Jerry Murdock made one smart investment in Twitter. As he explains it — with 6 billion people on the planet and 5 billion cell phone users with the capability to Tweet; hence, the entire world is “connected.”

Tina Brown transitioned from print to digital when she founded The Daily Beast and now I don’t think she misses ink.  Editors now have have the room to welcome new writers and voices, when before, in magazines,  there are only so many pages and most mags are less willing to take chances on young voices.

Chris Klug is a professional snowboarder athlete who not only lived through a liver transplant but also captured an Olympic medal just two years later. And what did YOU do today?

Gail Sheehy, author of 15  best-selling books, including her most recent book Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos Into Confidence put love and life in perspective with this personal story. Rather than stay by her husband’s bedside during his final days with cancer, one night, Gail decided it would be a night out on the town with music, drinks and laughs. She had her husband get dressed in nice slacks, and they had fun. He died a couple of nights later but that night will be with her forever.

Mimi Ito – a cultural anthropologist, genius, geek and author of two books — understands the implications of technologies impact on how younger generations learn. Today, younger people have a much wider range to get knowledge. They don’t rely on traditional gatekeepers for knowledge – like teachers and encyclopedias. It made me wonder what my nephew is absorbing on the Internet.

John Doerr, one of the savviest entrepreneurs whose firm has investments in Google and Amazon had this tip for me and you:  He likes people who don’t know what they can’t do.

I had no idea I could interview all these people – and be able to write this article. What do you not know that you CAN’T do?

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Category: 2010 Aspen Ideas Festival

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