What Makes The Aspen Ideas Festival Indispensable (To Me)
In my business, it’s important for me to have an event, a conference, or a live experience that is personally both indispensable AND irresistible so that I can remind myself what great looks and feels like. Then, I am better able to imagine and design events for others that deliver the same magic for them based on their criteria and expectations.
For me, that event is the Aspen Ideas Festival. I attended for the fifth year in a row last month. Here’s why:
- It has a purpose. A clear mission and focus. A non-partisan, open exchange of ideas, insights, knowledge, and wisdom with no agenda.
- It’s the most unique programming I experience anywhere. It is diverse, themed, and cohesive. It doesn’t get any better.
- The most impressive faculty lead the discussions. Heads of state, authors, poets, billionaire investors, young, fresh thinkers, academics, politicians, think tanks, celebrities and regular people with a new way of thinking. Billionaire hedge fund guru Ray Dalio, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Jackie Bezos, Steve Case, and legendary architect Frank Gehry to mention just a few of the 408 faculty members.
- The audience is as impressive as the faculty. The nature of the questions, the willingness to debate, and the depth of the insights stimulate real discussion. I always learn as much from the audience as I do the faculty. I meet so many new, interesting people that I’d never otherwise get to know.
- The campus. The town of Aspen is overtaken by the Festival and it’s beautiful. Much of the event is outdoors, and experiencing the Festival both indoors and out is part of the magic. Imagine 80-degree days, 50-degree nights, the fresh, high-altitude air, and a 1950’s small-town feel.
- Every consideration is given to provide the most delicious, healthy food and it’s always available. There was an absence of brown food, and lots of green food (that tasted good)—like kale shakes. I always feel healthier and more crisp when I eat better.
- I can opt-in and participate anytime I want from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., which allows me to enter sessions based on my schedule. That way I don’t feel overwhelmed or, conversely, like I’m missing something.
- It’s honest. I experience real debate, discussion and discourse—not sanitized, watered-down or politically correct fluff. You may not like everything you hear but it’s worth hearing. For example, one member of the audience asked James Comey how he’d like to be remembered. His answer: “I hope not at all.”
- There is an abundance of staff, volunteers, and helpers who are everywhere and friendly. This really makes a difference in feeling connected.
- Underwriters who add value. Allstate offers healthy drinks. Audi offers free rides anywhere in Aspen. Mount Sinai offers skin screenings and cardio testing. Google, Facebook, and General Mills among others offer environments and people who aren’t selling but building their brands through advice, conversations, and meaningful discussions.
Bottom line, this event leaves a lasting impression on me such that I am already anticipating the experience for next year. I feel energized while I’m there and I leave feeling smarter and more thoughtful. I have new words, ideas, insights, relationships, and a new perspective that I can apply to so many parts of my life.
What event do you attend that makes you feel this way? Why?
It’s impossible to design a meaningful experience if you haven’t experienced one for yourself. It’s like describing a food you’ve never tasted, or a remote travel destination you’ve never seen.
My advice: Know what exceptional looks like and then find out what will make your event just as meaningful for your audience.
It’s worth it.